By Simon Brown
Another bad bill bites the dust! Lawmakers in Georgia tabled a measure yesterday that would have used taxpayer money to expand school vouchers for religious and other private schools.
SB 87 was a casualty of “crossover day,” which occurs on the 30th day of Georgia’s legislative session. For a bill to move forward, it must pass at least one legislative house by crossover day, otherwise it cannot be taken up until the next session at the earliest.
According to the Associated Press, GOP leaders have tried for years – mostly unsuccessfully – to expand the state’s voucher program. This particular bill was branded as an attempt to give “school choice” to military families and foster children, but in fact it was just another attempt to give more taxpayer money to religious schools.
Unfortunately there have been many misguided religious school aid bills springing up all over the United States of late, since some people just can’t resist the urge to funnel public money to religious interests.
As a result, Americans United has been very active on this front. This week alone, AU has taken on voucher (or neo-voucher) schemes in four different states.
Amanda Rolat, AU’s state legislative counsel, sent a letter to the Missouri House’s Elementary and Secondary Education Committee asking that the panel oppose a bill that would fund vouchers for special needs children.
“Backdoor vouchers for special needs students – like vouchers for all students – do not improve education,” Rolat said in her letter. “Students who leave the public schools with a backdoor voucher forfeit many of the protections provided to students under the Individuals with Disabilities Act.”
Rolat also sent a letter to the Illinois House’s Revenue and Finance Committee, asking that it not pass a measure that would create a tax credit for those who contribute funds to student assistance organizations.
“This tax credit will not decrease education costs,” she said. “Rather, tax money that would ordinarily go to public schools would instead pay the tax benefit, thus limiting the capacity of the public schools.”
Finally, Rolat sent a letter to the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in the hope that it would oppose another bill establishing a tax credit for contributions to student aid organizations.
"Such a system simply fails low-income families," she wrote. "These backdoor vouchers would use taxpayers’ money to subsidize the education of only a small minority – only families with the money to cover the cost of the rest of the tuition, uniforms, transportation, books, and other supplies at private schools can benefit from this scheme."
An Americans United activist also offered testimony this week in an attempt to stop a Kansas voucher ploy. Vickie Sandell Stangl, president of AU’s Great Plains chapter, testified before the Kansas House Committee on Education and Budget that a proposed scheme to create yet another backdoor voucher program. It would, she said, be in violation of “the Kansas Constitution, [which] erects an absolute wall of separation, prohibiting public educational funds from flowing to sectarian education. “
Voucher legislation isn’t going away anytime soon, which is why the ever watchful eye of Americans United will remain alert as we try to stop these bad bills well before they become law.