2023 has been a really great year to be a school choice bill as a whole. Florida, Arkansas, Iowa and Utah all passed universal school choice programs that will give every student in their states the ability to take their tax dollars to the educational institution of their choosing. North Dakota also passed an expansive school choice program, and Texas is still moving a bill through its legislature—so are Nebraska, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
But one place where the school choice liberation movement came to a halt was in Georgia. Though the state is increasingly purple in its statewide races, the legislature is still very much red—making this an odd occurrence.
Georgia’s senate passed a piece of legislation that would have expanded choice programs in the Peach State, but it failed by five votes in the state’s house right before the 2023 session came to a close. Given the majority in the chamber, that means Republicans essentially killed the bill.
16 Republicans voted to kill school choice in Georgia.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 30, 2023
Opposition to school choice has become a fringe position in the GOP following the events of the pandemic where teachers’ unions and the Democratic politicians they support shutdown schools, pushed left-wing agendas in the classroom, and even worked to malign parents who lobbied on their own behalf at school board meetings. In virtually every other state, Republicans worked in lockstep to ensure that every child in their state had access to a quality education—no matter what their zip code, tax bracket, or political persuasion.
In North Carolina, all 30 Republicans cosponsored the bill, giving them enough votes to override an expected veto. Arizona previously passed their bill with one-seat GOP majorities in each chamber, meaning not a vote could be spared. And just one state over in Florida every single Republican in both chambers voted to advance their legislation.
So what gives in Georgia?
A lot of people would like to know. The bill seemed to be on a good path with Gov. Brian Kemp coming out in favor and Lt. Gov. Burt Jones working overtime to make it happen. Yet they couldn’t muster five more Republicans in the state house to get it across the finished line—causing some to call foul play.
You will not be surprised to learn most of the holdouts in the Georgia House are Republicans who were elected as Democrats, but flipped to the GOP when the state shifted right.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 26, 2023
One Republican defector that came under particular scrutiny was Rep. Don Parsons, who previously supported school choice efforts in the state in 2017, 2018, 2021, and 2022. His reasoning on the matter when called out seemed sus at best.
Name calling is uncalled for, done when facts don’t exist.I don’t know @EWErickson and he doesn’t know me but he does know that SB233 like every other bill must be evaluated, considered and voted on based on merit, which this bill lacks.A catchphrase name doesn’t mean a good bill
— Don Parsons (@don4georgia) March 30, 2023
What exactly did the bill lack? Parsons later released a 13-minute Substack audio clip attempting to justify his vote after significant blowback. It’s a long-winded, winding attempt to justify his actions that leaves one with no better answers on his true motivations than you go into it with. He tries to say the $500 stipend (per kid) for transportation in the bill isn’t enough to get kids to schools in rural areas, as one example. As if parents couldn’t determine whether or not that amount would work and make their calculations from there?
The Promise Scholarship Act would have provided $6500 to any student living in a bottom 25% performing public school district that could be used towards private schools, homeschooling, or other educational tools. No one would force people to opt into these programs, they would rather just offer a lifeline for desperate families who want to get their kids out of failing schools. This legislation allows families and parents to determine what the best deal is for their kid. It’s hard to see much “lacking” there.
Renowned school choice activist and the Executive Director of the Educational Freedom Institute, Corey DeAngelis, said the following about Georgia’s embarrassing display. “There is no excuse for a red state like Georgia to fail to empower families with education freedom. Arizona passed universal school choice last year with one-seat GOP majorities in each chamber. Every single Arizona Republican showed up and voted for school choice, a party platform issue. All Florida Republicans did the same thing this year. All Georgia Senate Republicans voted in favor of school choice, but over a dozen so-called Republicans in the state House joined nearly all Democrats in voting to trap kids in failing government schools. It’s time to hold these politicians accountable. Meanwhile, other red states are still moving the ball down the field this year.”
Fortunately, the House did vote to reconsider the bill next year, meaning the legislature can pick up the issue exactly where they left it—on the House floor—in 2024. This is good news as a bill usually faces multiple committee challenges before it can get to the floor of either chamber. Since the Senate passed it in 2023, this means the House can get right to considering it again in 2024 and hopefully pass it much more expediently.
Still, questions need to continue to be asked of those who acted against the will of the people and the interest of kids living on the margins in their state.
Hannah is a consultant for Americans for Prosperity which works on these issues.