An SSO is a private company that the state of Georgia approves to handle awards to approved private schools. Tax credits will be given out until the $50 million allocated for tax credits is used up. This is on a first come, first serve basis. If you look at the list of SSOs and approved private schools, it is overwhelmingly explicitly Christian, although I do see some of the more prestigious private schools like Westminister.
Despite the supposed justification that it will help poorer children receive a quality education in a private school rather than a failing public school, a quick glance at the list of schools in my area (Columbia and Richmond counties, East Central Georgia) revealed that the majority of schools were in areas where wealthier people lived (although I'm making inquiries now to see if this impression is correct). Furthermore, the Georgia Department of Revenue does not seem to have established a maximum income level for eligibility, so in theory the children of wealthy parents could receive scholarships to private schools. The only Student Scholarship Organization with a web site, the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, to its credit, has set up a sliding scale based on income for its awards, thus limiting amounts granted to wealthier families.
I've included a list of sites which should help the reader learn about this issue.
- List of Georgia Approved Private Schools for scholarships as of Winter 2008
- HB 1133 Flow Chart for Donations. This explains the steps individuals and businesses must go through to divert their state taxes from the state to an SSO.
- Georgia Form IT-QEE-TP1, used to apply for the income tax credit for qualified education expenses.
- Georgia Tax Credit for Private School Costs and Scholarship Donations, from the Georgia Department of Education web site
- Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, one of the Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs) as of July 28, 2008
- Explanation of Limits on Tax Deductions for Individuals and Corporations
- City of Knowledge Islamic School Lilburn, GA (Gwinnett County, a northern suburb of Atlanta), the only Islamic school I identified on the list of schools eligible to receive a scholarship
- American Civil Liberties Union-The Myths and Facts About Education Tax Credits
I am of mixed opinion on this, as I was about faith-based initiatives. On the one hand, from personal experience, I know that a well-run private religion-based organization can be more efficient in delivering services to the needy. At the same time, the potential for abuse in terms of hiring discrimination, lack of accountability with money, poor oversight, lack of technical skills and unequal treatment of clients is great. Most importantly, ultimately elected officials decide which faith-based organizations receive the government money, and, at least in Georgia, these officials are frequently beholden to Christian conservatives.
At some point, and I realize people differ on means, I believe that society has to make a major commitment to support failing public schools and the school voucher/choice movement is ultimately a distraction from that responsibility.
What are the readers' opinions of this new Georgia program?
Update June 8, 2011-A Failed Experiment: Georgia's Tax Credit Scholarships for Private Schools
Update June 9, 2011-Augusta, Georgia private school defends its tax credit scholarships