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Monday, February 3, 2014 - 2:39pm

Can Private School Tax Credits Be Expanded Without Harming Georgia's Public School Systems?

Last week's icy weather cut short a planned “school choice” rally, but supporters still hope their agenda will move forward this year, including a proposed expansion of the state's tuition tax credit program.

Representative Earl Ehrhart (R- Powder Springs) wants to increase the amount of money available for the tax credit program from the current level of $58 million.

“It is a very, very popular program. It has allowed thousands of school children to recognize their educational goals,” said Ehrhart.

Taxpayers qualify for the credit by making donations to student scholarship organizations, which distribute funds to help students pay for transferring from public to private schools.

This year's pool of tax credits has already been claimed.

“What I'm trying to accomplish is to raise the cap to 100 million dollars. It's very clear; the math is simple,” said Representative Ehrhart. “Now that we changed it in last year's bill, that you have to go from a public to a private school, there is no question about the math. It saves the state of Georgia money.”

But critics of the program contend the tax credits remove money that could be used to support struggling public school districts.

Representative Pam Stephenson (D-Atlanta) is among those who say the program needs more scrutiny before being significantly expanded.

She says lawmakers don’t want to do anything that would harm Georgia’s school systems, and need to make sure they are doing the right thing at the right time.

“It is our opinion that if we can wait and do an evaluation on how it is working, we would be in a much better position in terms of efficacy and responsibility,” said Stephenson.