School choice in the Peach State
criminate on religion — many students who attend those schools are not Catholic, he said.
In Indiana, one of those religious schools that receives public funding despite openly discriminating against LGBT students is Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington. In its application information, Lighthouse requires parents to confirm their families abide by the school’s “Biblical Lifestyle Statement,” which prohibits students and their families engage in “heterosexual activity outside of a one man-one-woman marriage,” “homosexual or bisexual activity or any form of sexual immorality,” “practicing alternate gender identity or any other identity or behavior that violates God’s ordained distinctions between the two sexes, male and female,” along with viewing pornography, drinking, cursing and stealing.
In the Congressional hearing referenced in the Inside Higher Ed story, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) challenged DeVos’ proposed $250 million increase in school voucher funds, asking the secretary if she’d stand up to make sure Lighthouse would be open to all students.
According to the Washington Blade, DeVos dodged the question. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts) (Photo via Facebook)
Attempts to reach the US Department of Education for clarification on DeVos’ stance on school vouchers and discrimination were unsuccessful as of press time.
Right now, Georgia has two school choice-related programs. The Qualified Expense Education Tax Credit and the Special Needs Scholarship Program were both created through legislation during the 2007 to 2008 legislative session.
“The funding for scholarships for the Georgia tax credit program is provided by pre-approved donations from Georgia taxpayers,” said Meghan Frick, spokeswoman for Georgia Department of Education.
These donations are made to student scholarship organizations, and the taxpayer receives a credit on her income tax. The scholarships are provided to parents of eligible children who plan to attend private schools.
The Georgia Department of Revenue pre-approves Georgians who wish to donate to the tax credit program, and there is a donation cap. According to the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization, in 2013 that cap was $58 million. Married couples filing jointly could donate up to $2,500; married individuals filing singly could give up to $1,250; unmarried people could donate up to $1,000; and select corporations up to $10,000 until that cap was reached.
On the other hand, the Special Needs Scholarship Program is a school choice program.
“If a student meets the eligibility criteria for the program, a parent or guardian has the right to request a transfer from a student’s current public school to another public school within their district of residence; another public school district outside their district of residence; one of the three state schools for the blind or deaf; or a private school authorized to participate in the Special Needs Scholarship Program,” Frick said.
This program does use public funding “to pay for tuition and fees” at private schools authorized by the state Department of Education.
If Georgia were to move forward with an Indiana-style voucher system, it would require a change in state law, not Department of Education policy, Frick said.
Right now, Pride School does not qualify for either of the Georgia school choice-related programs. It is funded entirely from donations and tuition dollars, none of which come from taxpayer coffers, Zsilavetz said.
Even if Pride School were covered by an Indiana-style school voucher program, there are still two major barriers for applicants: transportation and tuition. Most vouchers don’t cover the full cost of tuition, which can be pricey depending on the private school.
“Your average private school in Georgia is typically anywhere from $14,000 up. We’re on the low end because we’re new and we’re small, so we don’t have as much need, and we rent space for $1,000 a month. We minimize our expenses as much as possible,” Zsilavetz said.