Private School Vouchers: Continued Bipartisan Opposition in Georgia and Arkansas

This is the second in the series, Private School Vouchers: Analysis of 2019 State Legislative Sessions. Read the first part here.

Proposed private school voucher legislation was defeated by bipartisan opposition in two states with newly-elected Republican governors and Republican majorities in the State Legislature.

In Georgia, though the governor supported the establishment of a so-called Education Savings Account (ESA) voucher, that legislation failed in the State Senate. The proposed bill, which would have provided families an average of $5,500 in public funds for private school tuition or homeschooling expenses, failed with a vote of 25 in favor and 28 opposed. Every Democratic senator and seven Republicans voted against the bill. Republican leaders' attempt to add the bill language to unrelated legislation was also rejected by a Senate committee.

There was significant opposition to this voucher legislation from school board members, superintendents, teachers unions and public school advocates, including the Georgia Coalition for Public Education and the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

In addition, two crucial factors helped defeat the voucher bill. The first was the strong opposition of the former chair of the Education Committee, Senator Lindsey Tippins (R). Senator Tippins, a former chairman of the Cobb County Board of Education in suburban Atlanta, has been a strong supporter of public schools and has long opposed efforts to divert public funds to private schools. The second was the division among rural Republican senators on this issue. Six of the thirteen Republican senators representing rural areas of the state voted no, and two did not vote on the voucher bill. Most of these legislators cited the lack of funding for public schools or the need to address inequities in the state funding formula as their primary reason for opposing the bill. Others raised concerns about cost, accountability for private schools, and the fact that the new program did not restrict eligibility to low-income students.

In Arkansas, for the second straight year, rural Republican legislators teamed with Democrats to defeat Republican-sponsored legislation to create a tax credit voucher program and a traditional private school voucher program targeting Pulaski County, which includes the Little Rock public schools. In this case, the bills were approved by the State Senate, but were defeated in the House Education Committee.

Most of the legislators voting against the voucher bill cited the opposition of school board members and superintendents in their districts and the efforts of grassroots groups, such as the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. Several had significant concerns about the impact of the voucher programs on public schools, while others pointed to concerns about accountability.

Representative Nelda Speaks (R), from northern Arkansas, spoke about the potential loss of federal funds from school nutrition programs, in addition to the loss of state funding, as further reasons to oppose the legislation. She also argued that Arkansas already has "school choice" with a program that allows students to attend public schools in a district outside of their own.

Read Part 1 of the series here.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Jason Unger for compiling the research and drafting this series on 2019 legislative sessions.

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