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Monday, March 4, 2013 - 12:48am

Bill Would Expand Tax Credit

Republican Representative Earl Ehrhart of Powder Springs is sponsoring a bill to expand Georgia’s private school scholarship tax credit program. Critics say it would hurt public education.

The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute says expanding the tax credit program for private school scholarships would cost the state 30 million dollars that could go toward public education.

Analyst Claire Suggs says the Institute is also concerned the scholarship program is not need-based.

“It says explicitly ‘Any child eligible to attend a public school can receive one of these scholarships.’ If you are currently attending a private school, and even if your parents make 200 thousand dollars a year, you can qualify for this scholarship.”she says.

Suggs says schools aren’t required to demonstrate scholarship students are improving academically.

She says “I mean there’s no information. It is actually illegal to release any information about how the students are doing in school.”

But Jeff Jackson, president of the Georgia Independent School Association, says the program has been very successful.

He says “It has been very effective in attracting students, in helping improve diversity of all kinds in our schools. Helping make the school a choice, affordable or a possible option for parents who had not had that before.”

Jackson says independent schools are educating nearly 75 thousand students. He says the state doesn’t have to pay to educate those students.

And Jackson says private schools in his association alone are a huge boost to the state’s economy.

“160 schools, they’re all independent businesses. And they’re buying goods and services and they’re employing people across the state. “ he says.

Suggs says one improvement under the bill is language that ensures parents aren’t getting a tax credit by donating for their child’s education.

“The taxpayer cannot designate any recipient. Because there were anecdotal reports of basically parents swapping. You know, one parent saying ‘I’ll give to your kid if you give to mine.”she says.

The Southern Education Foundation has filed a complaint with the state Department of Revenue alleging taxpayers have been getting credits illegally through the program since its inception in 2008.

The state confirms it has received the complaint, but officials won’t discuss where the investigation stands.

The Georgia GOAL Scholarship program says from 2008 through 2012 the program has awarded 8,681 scholarships to 5,220 students. The average award was $3,815.

GOAL says 7,851 scholarships went to families with an adjusted gross income of $48,000 or less.