What is it like when your child’s school is failing them? For Georgia mother Tanya Schlegel, it was heartbreaking. Her son “would routinely come home from school with tears in his eyes, saying the school wasn’t treating him fairly. I discovered they were not implementing his Individualized Education Plan as written but were putting pressure on my son to perform outside of the accommodations that were agreed upon. It caused a lot of meltdowns and angst. The situation eventually became so severe that he began self-harm. That progression broke my heart because he is a good kid. He’s not aggressive. He’s not violent. But the pressures the school system put on him caused him to hurt himself.”
Tanya felt stuck. Her son and daughter both have special needs and require extra attention and resources that their school can’t provide. Tanya and her husband also can’t afford to move to an area with better schools or pay for their children to go to better equipped (but expensive) private schools.
Tanya’s story isn’t unique in Georgia. Families all across the state—and especially in rural areas—are stuck in schools that don’t provide the education their students need, but there’s no alternative available.
This is why the Georgia Center for Opportunity launched their campaign to champion school choice programs for Georgia families.
During the 2022 legislative session, there were several bipartisan bills introduced to increase school choice opportunities in Georgia. Two of the most significant bills (HB 999 and SB 601) would have created Educational Savings Accounts called “promise scholarships.” These promise scholarships would have offered Georgia families up to $6,000 a year for approved education expenses. As GCO’s Vice President of Public Policy, Buzz Brockway explains, “Promise Scholarships would step far beyond a typical voucher by fully putting parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to their child’s education. The funds could [be] used for private-school tuition, but there would [be] added flexibility depending on each family’s unique needs, extending to paying for things like tutoring, specialized therapies, or homeschool co-ops.”
For families like Tanya’s, promise scholarships would be a lifeline. She explained “Promise Scholarships would provide the type of resources to ensure that our children are not left behind.”
GCO set out to garner support for promise scholarships from as many Georgians (and especially Georgians in swing districts) and state legislators as possible.
GCO created a robust social media campaign around HB 999 and SB 601. They produced video ads for YouTube and promoted those videos to Georgians all across the state. Their main Promise Scholarship Ad garnered over 160,000 views. GCO’s campaign also included making more than 30,000 calls to voters in key swing districts. Because of GCO’s outreach campaign, each legislator received 10 messages the first week of the campaign and over 30 messages the second week of the campaign and beyond. And anyone who’s worked in a legislator’s office can tell you how impactful constituent calls are (especially leading up to an election year).
In addition to their social media campaign, GCO ran TV and radio ads which received more than 900,000 impressions and also launched a texting campaign which sent over 77,000 text messages to Georgians across the state.
HB 999 passed out of subcommittee but failed to go any farther. SB 601 made it all the way to a full floor vote in the legislature but was defeated by a vote of 20-29 in the state Senate. Buzz Brockway explains, “Tuesday, March 15th was a sad day for kids in Georgia. That’s the day when the Georgia Senate voted down a bill to create Promise Scholarships. […] Simply put, a vote against SB 601 was a vote against the many Georgia families who desperately need help. Particularly as our state emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic where so many students are left behind, it’s unconscionable that we would deny this lifeline to families.”
While promise scholarships remain an unfinished goal for GCO and Georgia parents like Tanya, there were some victories for school choice in Georgia in 2022. The legislature did pass HB 517 which increases the cap on Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program from $100 million to $120 million per year. HB 517 also doubles the amount individuals, LLCs, and S Corporations may contribute and removes the automatic sunset of the program.
School choice is a lifeline for parents struggling to find the right education options for their students. That is why the Georgia Center for Opportunity is fighting—and will continue to fight—for as many of those lifelines as possible.