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Friday, February 4, 2011 - 11:55am

Slim Budget Reignites School Choice Debate

A state tax credit that helps pay for some Georgia students to attend private schools is running out of money.

The fund is re-igniting a heated debate.

Under the program, an individual can donate up to a thousand dollars to a specific private school and get the money back in the form of a state tax credit.

Tim Callahan with the Professional Association of Georgia Educators says, the credit siphons state funds from public schools.

"While the private schools do a great job, we really ought to be funding our public schools before we start funding some other things," Callahan says. "If the state has to choose, it seems to me the state constitution requires us to have a public education system first and foremost."

But private school supporter Lisa Kelly of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship says, the tax credit is a voluntary donation that helps needy students have school choice.

"More money being contributed to this program... just allows that many more parents to have opportunities to choose the school where their child attends," Kelly says. "We have put more than 3,000 students around Georgia on scholarships."

Lawamkers budgeted $50 million for the program -- a limit it's now approaching this fiscal year.

Private school advocates want an increase in its budget.

The money would come out of the state's general budget, of which public education is the largest expenditure.