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Georgia’s school-choice program draws legal challenge

By   /   May 7, 2014  /   No Comments

Part 112 of 126 in the series Educating America

By  Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Robin Lamp calls herself “more than just a PTO parent.” She made a point to be involved in her daughters’ education, learning about the curriculum and working behind the scenes.

Changes to the math program caused her daughter Haley, then in middle school, to struggle.

Photos by Robin Lamp

SCHOOL-CHOICE: Robin Lamp is grateful for the opportunities her daughters, Haley and Hannah, have had through Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program.

“I had to get tutors, and we were barely keeping our heads above water. I had many conferences with math teachers,” Lamp said.

Lamp is a single mom working four or five jobs a year, some of them seasonal, to support herself and her two daughters. She doesn’t use any government support, she said.

“I take their education very, very seriously. My view of it is, it is my responsibility to educate my children, and I use all the resources available to me — public school systems, whatever,” she said. “I didn’t know that I had a choice. I didn’t know I could do anything other than homeschool her.”

She learned about Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program through a friend. She couldn’t afford private school tuition on her earnings, but the program helped offset that cost.

“I asked her, ‘Are you willing to leave your public school and friends and go here?’”

Haley was preparing for ninth grade. She will graduate this spring in the top 15 of her class and plans to study nursing at Clayton State College, where she’s been accepted.

“They have changed my daughter’s life, and how can I ever say thank you for that?” Lamp said. “I can’t. That’s giving her life support when she was dying academically. I am just so thankful.”

Lamp’s younger daughter, Hannah, is attending the same private school on scholarship.

Others in Georgia don’t see the program in the same light. The Southern Education Foundation for years has pushed for changes to the program, said Katherine Dunn, program officer. The foundation recently helped a group of plaintiffs file a lawsuit, hoping to have the program declared unconstitutional.

“While we work to improve the program, it’s sort of at the point where we think it’s time to initiate litigation,” Dunn said.

Dunn said SEF would like to see increased testing in private schools and tighter regulations on curriculum and teacher qualifications.

Testing would be one way to measure scholarship students’ progress, she said.

“We’d like the schools to be held accountable for providing better education than the public schools do for these students,” she said.

Scholarship granting nonprofits need more accountability, too, she said.

“There are constitutional issues with how the program is set up — tax credits versus tax deductions, and organizations being private that distribute these monies,” she said.

SEF is not opposed in principle to school choice, she said, but before the state implements a school-choice program, traditional public schools should be funded at higher levels, and these measures for the tax-credit scholarship should be in place, she said.

Scholarship money does not come directly out of the education budget, but the tax credits result in Georgians paying less money in taxes overall, which indirectly cuts into the public education budget, she said.

The Institute for Justice is planning to intervene in the lawsuit, representing parents – including Lamp. IJ often represents parents in school-choice litigation.

“The claims are the same claims we’ve seen over and over again,” said Tim Keller, IJ’s lead attorney on the case.

The money going to tax-credit scholarships isn’t public money, Keller said — it’s private money, donations by individuals and corporations.

“The other claim seems to be that somehow this program is impinging on the state’s responsibility to fund public education. But even if this money was collected by the state — and that’s a big ‘if’ … the Legislature has complete authority to do what it wants with the money,” he said.

Other state programs have just as much right to say they’re underfunded, Keller said — and state lawmakers, not tax-credit programs, decide how that money is allocated.

In addition, Keller said, the state’s constitution explicitly allows public funds to be used for scholarships, referring  to Article 8, Section 7, Paragraph 1.

Lamp said she’s happy to participate in the lawsuit because the program has helped her daughter so much.

“I want to protect school choice. I want to protect education for children that the public school system just doesn’t work for. I want to make parents aware that you need to do what’s best for your child sometimes instead of going along with the flow,” she said. “What my family has gained from this program is so much more than I can ever lose by being a part of this legal process.”

In the meantime, she’s looking forward to graduation.

“My daughter’s graduating. I’m one of those emotional mamas that has a senior who’s going to walk across that stage in a few weeks. I’m just so thankful that I was made aware that I had a choice,” she said.

She described herself as “pro-education.”

“I still pay my taxes and support the public school system. I pay my part of the private school tuition. … I don’t think we as a society need to just be so focused on ‘it has to be one way.’ In the classroom, the teachers are being trained that children learn in all different ways, visual and audio, whatever. As a school system, we need to realize that children learn and need to be educated in different ways.”

NURSING STUDENT: Haley Lamp poses with her mother, Robin Lamp, at her graduation party. Haley is looking forward to studying nursing in the fall.

“I’m frustrated that people want to take this away. To me, that’s like a burglar coming into my home and wanting to rob me of something that’s very valuable to me. I’m very upset about that.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org

Part of 126 in the series Educating America
  1. Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says
  2. Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools
  3. Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill
  4. DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit
  5. Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts
  6. Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats
  7. Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program
  8. Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school
  9. ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false
  10. NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice
  11. Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy
  12. Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says
  13. Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit
  14. Experts: School choice improves education in public schools
  15. SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand
  16. DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit
  17. U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’
  18. ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early
  19. New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs
  20. Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents
  21. $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union
  22. Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice
  23. Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools
  24. Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning
  25. Parents make good school choices, study says
  26. Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA
  27. In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears
  28. Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law
  29. School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents
  30. Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program
  31. PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies
  32. College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story
  33. Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools
  34. What is Massachusetts doing right?
  35. Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision
  36. Want to end poverty? Educate the kids
  37. Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money
  38. North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues
  39. Philadelphia school district threatens charters
  40. Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school
  41. Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety
  42. Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice
  43. Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts
  44. California students sue state over ineffective teachers
  45. Study: Public supports parent choice in education
  46. Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth
  47. New Orleans tops school choice index
  48. AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
  49. Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program
  50. PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year
  51. Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’
  52. Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed
  53. Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants
  54. WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’
  55. Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools
  56. Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system
  57. Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
  58. Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools
  59. New York charter school focuses on family, community
  60. NC school vouchers on hold
  61. WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment
  62. Philadelphia schools will end another year in red
  63. PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition
  64. Two ESA bills get House support in AZ
  65. Thousands rally to support New York charter schools
  66. California’s defense begins in Vergara trial
  67. Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill
  68. PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools
  69. Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships
  70. To test or not to test? Florida school choice proponents split
  71. Philly school district broke, but the pay is good
  72. Philadelphia charter school sues public school district
  73. Colorado Supreme Court to hear school voucher case
  74. Vermont to reconsider education funding formula
  75. Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand
  76. Massachusetts charter school bill revived
  77. Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say
  78. FL again takes up school-choice bill
  79. Choice Media’s videocast tackles host of education issues
  80. Ending teacher seniority rules beyond Philly requires legislative action
  81. New website helps Detroit parents choose schools
  82. Philly schools caught on funding merry-go-round
  83. Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs
  84. New D.C. charter school lottery eases but doesn’t eliminate waiting lists
  85. Federal bill attempts to help replicate high-quality state charter schools
  86. Philadelphia schools awaiting taxes from city, state
  87. ACLU alleges discrimination in 138 NJ districts
  88. MN anti-bullying bill could have unintended consequences
  89. Mississippi’s special needs bill to return next year
  90. Illinois considers three-year ban on virtual charter schools
  91. Violent Philly high school source of worry
  92. Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district
  93. Civil liberties organization sues to overturn anti-bullying law
  94. Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up
  95. Academics, culture help mom choose private school
  96. PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts
  97. Arizona expands school choice program
  98. The sticky statistic of statewide charter school performance in PA
  99. Louisiana offers new vocational technical program
  100. Benefits are driving high personnel costs in Philadelphia schools
  101. Educators look to grow with expanding Hispanic demographic
  102. Philadelphia flexes muscle over charter schools
  103. Philly school district facing another bleak budget
  104. Andre Agassi dedicates Indianapolis charter school
  105. For PA and neighboring states, school spending and graduation rates don’t add up
  106. At long last, PA school buses could be getting a boost
  107. Arizona charter schools need funding fix, proponents say
  108. Progress reports for Philadelphia schools show uneven achievement
  109. Teachers union opposes ‘Bad Teachers’
  110. Governor’s plans to boost education funding falls short
  111. Georgia’s school-choice program draws legal challenge
  112. Missouri parents want more choice in education
  113. U.S. lawmakers to consider charter school bill
  114. Florida’s school choice expansion awaits governor’s signature
  115. PA charter schools may see drop in funding with new special education formula
  116. In Nevada, your child’s school records could cost $10K
  117. AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules
  118. NC school voucher program gets temporary green light
  119. Philly school district’s lack of transparency frustrates families
  120. Bullying motivates many parents to home-school, attorney says
  121. Philadelphia City Council gambles to fund schools
  122. PA Supreme Court pushes forward charter school’s lawsuit against Philly
  123. Feds consider joining school choice game
  124. Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others
  125. California teacher reform lawsuit sparks copycat, more likely to come
  126. School choice is popular — when parents know about it
  127. What can private schools learn from charters?

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Mary C. Tillotson is a national education reporter for Watchdog.org. She has reported for School Reform News, published by the Heartland Institute, and The St. Ignace News in northern Michigan. Contact Mary at mtillotson@watchdog.org.