Facing a massive state revenue shortfall, the Georgia legislature’s response has been predictable: cut funding to public education. The proposed budget cuts to the public K–12 and public university system of Georgia would have a staggering impact: 17 percent of the budget for higher education ($300 million) and similar cuts from K–12 education that would ultimately cost Chatham Country about $37 million.
Why predictable? Because the same Georgia legislature voted in 2008 to send $50 million in state revenues to private K–12 schools and private companies through something called the Tuition Tax Credit. That alone seems a pretty fair demonstration of their non–commitment to public education.
And in case you aren’t convinced, the state legislature voted on April 14 to eliminate state income taxes for seniors and reduce state property taxes, the same day students at Armstrong Atlantic State University protested proposed cuts. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the senior citizen income tax cut would cost the state about $380 million, more than enough to cover the $300 million cut to higher education throughout the state.
But let’s talk about the Tuition Tax Credit, because this law is already on the books. How does it redirect funding from public to private schools?
Individuals may to divert up to $1000 of their state tax funds to a private Student Scholarship Organization. This organization must then donate 90 percent of the donation to a qualified private school in Georgia.
Couples filing jointly may divert up to $2500 of their state tax funds to the Student Scholarship Organizations. Corporations may redirect up to 75 percent of state tax.
A company that pays $25,000 in state taxes this year could send up to $18,750 of that money to a Student Scholarship Organization, which would keep 10 percent and pass the other 90 percent along to private schools designated by the corporation. As added incentive, corporations and individuals can use this donation to gain an additional federal deduction.
It is a win/win for corporations, private Student Scholarship Organizations, and private schools. It is a lose/lose for Georgia and her public schools.
The Tuition Tax Credit law costs Georgia up to $50 million every year in revenue that could otherwise go to public education.
Legislators drunk on the wealth of the bubble economy created this subsidy for special interests (private schools) without anticipating that in hard times these subsidies would strangle the state budget. But those who advocated such a law two years ago cannot now admit that it was a boondoggle without getting egg on their face.
Nonetheless, repealing the Tuition Tax Credit law of 2008 would instantly infuse up to $50 million into the budget, money that would go a long way to averting the crisis facing the state’s public schools. Given that the state already has a significant investment in the infrastructure of the public school and university system, common sense demands that the legislature should direct funds to support that investment, and only afterwards support to private schools.
A failure to fund the public education system will have a dramatic affect on our future economic recovery, and cost us far more in the long run if the citizens should ever decide to vote into office legislators who wish to rebuild the public institutions — institutions that look to be profoundly wounded by the proposed budget cuts.
Jack Simmons is a local educator. To comment, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org