Monday, August 04, 2008

Georgia Tax Credit Program for Private Schools Deserves Attention from Muslims and Other Religious Minorities

The Augusta Chronicle's article of August 4, 2008 entitled "Tax credit program helps open private school doors" alerted me to an important development in Georgia to which Muslims should pay attention. From what I understand, taxpayers in Georgia can decide to allocate a portion of his or her state taxes to go to a Student Scholarship Organization (SSO) rather than to the state. The amount of taxes, however, is still the same.

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.
Of course, a quick hour's read through these materials may mean that I have missed something, so please correct me if I've written something incorrect.

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


Ayman H Fadel said...

On Georgia Public Television's weekly news segment entitled "Georgia Weekly," Savannah Senator Eric Johnson advocates school vouchers and mentions SSOs.

privateschool said...

This is the good article and gives good information of the matter. This is very common debate that junior boarding schools are costly and these are not for low income people. This is good to hear that taxpayers in Georgia can decide to pay tax to the student scholarship organization.

Ayman H Fadel said...

Blog post about concerted campaign to create a test state where private schools replace public schools. Howard Rich South Carolina Primary Recap, July 28, 2008

Ayman H Fadel said...

Interview with Ziad Minkara, founder of a student scholarship organization in Georgia.