New poll finds broad support for school choice in Georgia

jmink@macon.comJuly 10, 2014 

As one Bibb County charter school is scheduled to open and an existing school is converted into a charter this year, a large majority of Georgians support school choice, according to a survey released Thursday in Macon.

Nearly all of those support choice for all Georgia students regardless of family income, according to the 2014 Georgia Education Survey, conducted for the Economics of Education Policy Center at Georgia College & State University.

“It’s pretty overwhelming,” said Ben Scafidi, a professor of economics and director of the Economics of Education Policy Center. Scafidi led the study, which included a survey of 1,000 Georgia adults.

While the survey did not focus on charter schools, it asked questions pertaining to universal school choice.

For example, it found that 70.3 percent of respondents approve of Georgia’s tax credit scholarships, and 69.4 percent agree that those scholarships should be available to all families. The program allows some taxpayers to redirect part of their income tax to “student scholarship organizations,” which hand out scholarships for students to attend private school.

The statewide cap for those scholarships is $58 million, and a majority -- nearly 62 percent of respondents -- favored raising that limit to $100 million.

Additionally, about 80.5 percent support Georgia’s scholarship program for special-needs students, which allows those students to transfer to private schools with some state funding assistance.

The survey also asked about the concept of education savings accounts. The tax-advantaged accounts have been rolled out in a couple of states, allowing parents to take their children out of public school and using a government-authorized account to pay for private school tuition, online education, tutoring or college expenses. About 67.8 percent supported the concept, according to the study.

A major reason the survey did not ask questions about charter schools was because “we know what Georgians think about charter schools,” Scafidi said. In 2012, about 66 percent of Georgians supported the charter schools amendment, which allows the state to approve charter schools.

In Macon, the Academy for Classical Education will open Aug. 4 to about 760 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. There are about 700 students on the school’s waiting list.

“It’s not just a case of a handful of parents thinking this is a neat idea,” said Will Gaither, vice chairman of the governing board for the academy. “There are 700 children on the waiting list.”

Another charter school, Macon Charter Academy, had originally planned to open in August, but the date has been pushed to 2015. Additionally, the former Hutchings Career Center has officially received charter school status and is now the Hutchings College and Career Academy.

And the hope is more communities will get on board with school choice, supporters said Thursday.

“These students are innocent. They only go through school once,” he said. “While we fix public schools, we should give them a way out and, at the same time, let parents choose what they think is better.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 744-4331.

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