One group celebrated the benefits of a 3-year-old law that gives tax breaks to companies and individuals who make donations toward scholarships to private schools. The AHEAD Foundation awarded $1 million in scholarships to Aurora Day School, a private school in Tucker, Ga., geared toward children with autism.
The foundation served as a conduit for the scholarship donations made by CIBA Vision, an eyewear maker based in Duluth, Ga. Under Georgia’s scholarship law, donations qualifying for tax credits can’t be made directly to either the child or the school, only to student scholarship organizations like AHEAD.
“The SSOs have been a blessing,” said Randy Simons, parent of a student at Aurora. “That makes a huge different to parents like us.”
Simons said his daughter had attended five schools before finding the services that benefit her the most at Aurora. The scholarship made the school affordable for families already bearing the costs of extra medical needs.
A second group at the Capitol were the 500 or so students and parents with the Georgia Families for Public Virtual Education. Most of the students are among the 8,500 enrolled in the Georgia Cyber Academy from across the state. A second online school is already in operation, and two more will be in the fall, all public schools getting tax funds from the state.
The groups are lobbying for funding closer to the amount traditional, brick-and-motar schools get for each of their students, typically around $9,000 yearly. The two existing virtual schools get $3,400 per student today.
The state’s Charter School Commission recently concluded the online schools should get $5,800 per student, but then the House of Representatives passed a budget for next year setting the figure at $5,200. While the House amount would be a boost, the parents are pushing for the full figure set by the commission.
“The big thing to do today is to make sure our families are aware of what’s going on with the funding so we can make try to stay as close to that $5,800 mark as possible,” said Renee Lord, president of the Georgia Families.
Now that the House has finished with the budget, it’s in the hands of the Senate. One Senate leader spoke to both groups Monday who didn’t need any convincing.
Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers said parents need to be able to choose from public and private schools to find the right setting for each child’s unique skills and challenges.
“In this state, too often we have to make excuses about things in education that aren’t working,” said Rogers, R-Woodstock. “This is something that is working.”
Rogers is the sponsor of Senate Bill 87 that would provide vouchers for private-school tuition to the foster children and military dependents. It would expand a program that makes those vouchers available to handicapped students.
He tabled his bill last week when he concluded he didn’t have enough votes to pass it.
He didn’t mention how the Senate leadership will deal with the funding issue for the virtual schools. The Senate Appropriations Committee expects to spend another two weeks on the budget before it has a version for the full Senate to consider.
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