As a graduate of Georgia public schools and a former teacher, I fully support public education in our state.

My grandparents were public school teachers and my mother served on the Georgia State Board of Education in the 1980s.

Fortunately for Cherokee County, we have one of the best school systems in Georgia. Our school board, administration and educators are doing a fantastic job.

In five years serving in the General Assembly, I have consistently advocated for good policy and sufficient funding for education. I worked hard in support of fully funding our schools and giving educators a well-deserved raise.

Even the best schools — public or private — cannot address the needs of every student. Children are unique. We must find ways to meet each child’s educational needs by encouraging parental involvement and empowering them with choices. There will always be some students who need a personalized education plan. This is what The Georgia Educational Scholarship Act is all about. Far from taking away from our public education system, this bill enhances what the state is able to provide students and families from every walk of life.

What is an Educational Scholarship Account?

This is an account administered by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement which can be used only for educational purposes approved by the act. The annual contribution to this account is the state portion designated toward that student’s education.

How many students may participate?

The program is capped at .5% of total public school enrollment (around 8,400 students out of 1.6 million statewide).

Who is eligible for an ESA?

(The first five categories receive priority)

1. Students with a family income below 200% of the federal poverty level (around $50,000) currently enrolled in a Georgia public school.

2. Students adopted from foster care.

3. Students of active duty military parents.

4. Disabled students with an IEP currently enrolled in a Georgia public school.

5. Students who have a documented case of being bullied who are currently enrolled in a Georgia public school.

6. Students who spent the previous year enrolled in a Georgia public school.

How does this bill affect public schools?

Research shows that public schools benefit in states that support educational choice. The local school system continues to receive the local portion of that student’s funding as well as any federal contribution (47% of the total spent). Consequently, per student funding increases as a result of this act.

Student Academic Achievement of participants increases

Out of 18 studies, 14 showed positive results for participants, two had neutral findings and two (both from Louisiana) had negative findings.

Student Academic Achievement of non-participants increases

Out of 33 studies, 31 showed improved academic outcomes of the students who remained in public schools (one study was neutral, one study was negative).

Diversity in school population increases

Educational choice programs lead to more diverse schools. Nine out of 10 studies show that students in these programs move from more segregated schools into less segregated schools. The other study showed no impact.

Funding for public education increases

Of 28 empirical studies, 25 found that these programs save money and three studies showed them as revenue neutral. None showed added cost to taxpayers. A comprehensive study by economist and University of Georgia professor Jeffrey Dorfman clearly demonstrates that ESAs would result in increased funding to Georgia schools.

Graduation rates increase and students are more likely to attend and succeed in college

The federal government’s own study of the scholarship program for students in the District of Columbia found participants were 12% more likely to graduate than students who applied but didn’t get selected.

Some other important features: Students in the program are tested to measure the effectiveness of the program; The bill includes strong financial controls and audits; An annual report of the program is generated; Schools and other participating providers are held accountable.

ESAs are popular

Polling nationally and in Georgia has also shown overwhelming support across parties and walks of life.

Educational Scholarship Accounts give parents the widest number of choices to address the specific needs of their children. Georgia parents need more diverse options to choose from when deciding the best educational environment for their child. ESAs put students — and their families — first, while improving the quality of education across our state.

State Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock is young adult pastor at Woodstock First Baptist Church.

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