Georgia governor signs bill to launch ‘Promise Scholarships’

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(The Center Square) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a measure to allow families to spend taxpayer money on private school tuition, which school choice proponents lauded, though critics worry it will cut resources from strapped school systems.

Senate Bill 233, the “Georgia Promise Scholarship Act,” which lawmakers passed after killing the proposal last year. Under the measure, students who attend a public school that ranks in the bottom 25% in terms of academic performance are eligible for annual $6,500 scholarships.

The bill’s signing “is a great step in the right direction,” Lt. Governor Burt Jones, a Republican, said in a statement. However, “there is still more work to be done to give parents the choice and resources that can meet their child’s unique educational needs,” and the lieutenant governor vowed to work with policymakers to “ensure educational freedom in Georgia.”

Georgia families can use the money for “approved educational expenses,” including private school tuition. The program prioritizes families earning less than 400% of the federal poverty level — around $120,000 a year for a family of four — and students from families earning more are eligible for any leftover funds.

The measure stipulates that the total state funds allotted to the program each fiscal year cannot exceed 1% of the previous fiscal year’s Quality Basic Education Program appropriation. The QBE is roughly $14.1 billion in fiscal 2025.

“It recognizes that Georgia is a diverse state with a diverse set of needs for education,” Buzz Brockway, the Georgia Center for Opportunity’s vice president of public policy, said in a statement. “After years of work, this bill is a positive step toward shaping an education system that honors every child’s unique situation and prevents a lack of quality education from locking children and communities into poverty.”

Once live for the 2025-26 school year, the state could allocate roughly 21,500 Promise Scholarships, according to GCO.

“This legislation will empower thousands of Georgia families with educational choices, ensuring that educational expenditure can be used toward private schooling and related expenses for students in need,” Kyle Wingfield, president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said in a statement. “It’s an important step forward for educational freedom in our state and improving educational outcomes.”

However, a policy expert with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute said it was deeply disappointed by the bill’s signing, saying it “will divert crucial public money away from public K-12 schools.”

“A previous version of the bill was estimated to cost as much as $150 million once fully enacted,” David Schaefer, vice president of research and policy for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said in a statement. “Moreover, SB 233 legislation falls short of guaranteeing the high standards of instruction, educational quality and civil rights protections that characterize more accountable public schools.”