Journalism Professor: Tax Money Diversion Short-Changes Public School Students

June 15, 2012

Hank KlibanoffThe diversion of Georgia tax funds from the state treasury has significantly harmed public school students in the state, according to an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

The article was co-authored by Hank Klibanoff, James M. Cox Jr. Professor of Journalism at Emory, and Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation.

They explain that $143 million in state taxes have been redirected into a little-known and easily abused program that provides scholarships for Georgia students to attend private schools.

“In 2008, after tuition voucher proposals had failed again, the Legislature passed and Gov. Sonny Perdue signed a back-door method guided by a legislator who later bragged that he misled his colleagues,” Klibanoff and Suitts wrote. “The law allows Georgia individuals and corporations to divert some of their state taxes away from the state treasury and into nonprofit student scholarship organizations. These SSOs use the tax money to pay scholarships for students to attend private schools.”

The massive transfer of funds, they continued, reveals the spending priorities of Georgia’s leaders: “In a mere four years, the tax credit program for private school scholarships has become the state’s largest — larger than tax credits for creating jobs, luring income-generating filmmaking or promoting clean energy. Is this the ride we signed up for? Did we really vote for the Legislature and governor to begin squeezing to death our public schools and financing an unaccountable private school system?”

Legislators who sponsored the SSO bill insisted that its purpose was to help low-income students in struggling public schools transfer into better private schools. But that’s not what happened. The authors pointed to a May 21 New York Times article, which reported that one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. David Casas, boasted at a meeting of parents that he had deliberately corrupted the law’s wording to allow parents of students already in private schools to ‘enroll’ their children in a public school only long enough to claim a scholarship and then never attend a public school, much less a failing one.

Klibanoff and Suitts added that “Given Casas’ swagger about the ruse, it was no surprise that some SSOs and schools have openly advertised that contributing parents and friends of parents may recommend or designate their own schools and the student of their choice to receive a scholarship. Some encouraged parents to designate their own children. All of this is flagrantly against state law and regulations. It is simply private school cheating.”

To read the entire op-ed piece, click here.

To read the New York Times article, click here.

— Steve Frandzel

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