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Cumming lawmaker floats Parental Choice Bill
hamilton
Hamilton

ATLANTA — A state lawmaker from Forsyth County has proposed a bill that may shift some money from public schools to allow parents more choices in how they educate their children.

The Education Savings Account Act, which some have nicknamed the “Parental Choice Bill,” is intended to give “unique pathways for children and offer some financial assistance,” said Rep. Mark Hamilton from District 24, which includes Cumming and west Forsyth.

District 25 Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth co-sponsored the bill with three other Republicans and one Democrat.

The bill would funnel a child’s portion of state funding for public school into an account that parents could then use to pay for alternative education.

“They can determine how they want to spend it,” Hamilton said.

Parents could use this money to supplement a homeschool curriculum, tutoring, online testing, AP counseling or private school, to name a few.

The amount each child receives would depend on the student and the school district, so totals would vary throughout Georgia, Hamilton said.

“Across the state,” he said, “it will probably be around $4,000 per student, ranging from $3,000-$5,000.”

If the measure is approved, Georgia would follow the lead of Arizona and Florida in this type of legislation.

Under the Georgia proposal, children entering kindergarten or first grade or who have been in public school for at least one semester would be eligible on a first-come-first-serve basis.

The bill was still in the education committee, which was meeting this week, so additional changes are possible. However, some provisions stand out.

According to Hamilton, an initial cap of about 8,500 students would be in place for the first year. This came out to one-half of 1 percent of the total state student population. A maximum of 17,000 students would be eligible the second year, which is 1 percent of Georgia’s public school students. There would be no limit starting the third year.

“If a student doesn’t use all of the money at the end of the year, it rolls over,” Hamilton said. “It’s also eligible for them to use in college, so if they graduate from high school and there’s dollars left over, they can roll it into a technical school or a university.”

Funds would be returned to the state after two years of no activity or if the student drops out, he said.

Parents with an account would still be required to pay public school taxes.

“We had about 30 signatures on the bill when it was introduced, and we only spent an hour walking around with it. I’m not saying it will be easy, but it was initially very positive,” he said. “There’s a number of people who really want to have this discussion.”

But the bill is not without opposition

Hamilton said groups on both sides of the issue attended a hearing Wednesday. Most of those opposed were education organizations.

“You’d be hard pressed to find any public school superintendent who is excited for this bill,” said Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden. “I respect [Hamilton’s] stance for wanting kids to have more choice.

“But with furlough days and increased class sizes, we’ve been stretched to the limit for around 10 years now, and anything that’s going to potentially take more money away from our public school system, I’m not going to be supportive of that.”

Bearden said Forsyth’s “outstanding school system that’s highly thought of” may have a lower impact than other districts.

“But as a public school advocate,” he said, “I’m never going to be supportive of taking money away from public education.”