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    Organization: Georgia Association of Educators     Date: 11/19/2017

 

  Teachers union president balks at school choice funding  
 

(Saturday,11/04/2017 ©  Chattanooga Times Free Press)

The head of Georgia's teachers union said Friday that an element of Republicans' federal tax plan is a step toward school segregation.

Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, criticized a part of the plan that would allow parents to use money from their 529 college savings plans for K-12 education, including at private schools. Though not as aggressive as some public education advocates feared, the policy change would be a step in favor of the school choice movement.

"There's a huge amount of money in public education," Chapman said Friday during an editorial board meeting at the Times Free Press. "And if you can get that into the private sector and siphon that off into these private charter companies, scholarships, backpacking, savings accounts — call it whatever you want; they're still vouchers. It takes money away from school. And it takes out those students. You're left with those who can't go. You're re-segregating on different levels."

He also said the $10,000 allowed under the plan wouldn't be a substantial fix, even for families who wanted to move their children out of public schools.

"Most private schools are, what? $25,000, $30,000 a year? Or more," Chapman said. "So it only helps those who are financially able to do that already. A lot of folks are buying into that concept: 'Oh, I can send my child to a private school.' Well, no."

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an advocate for increasing school choice. But broader steps to take more children out of public schools are not in the tax plan, replaced by Republicans on Thursday. There is no tax credit to fund private school scholarships. There is also no funding for a federal voucher program, which would help low-income students attend private schools.

"529s are a strong and proven tool to help make education more affordable for middle-class families," DeVos said in a statement. "This is a good step forward, reflecting that education should be an investment in individual students, not systems. I look forward to continuing to work with Congressional leaders to ensure all families have equal access to the education that meets their child's unique needs."

Chapman's term as Georgia Association of Educators president will end next year. As he leaves the post, he is also run as a Democrat for Georgia state school superintendent, a position held by Republican Richard Woods.

On Friday, Chapman also criticized another element of the Republicans' tax plan: The closing of a $250 dedication that teachers now can use to buy classroom supplies. Chapman said this rule in particular is helpful for elementary school teachers, who decorate their classrooms and buy supplies for extra projects.

"You're spending your own money, trying to better the school," he said. "You're taking money out of your pocket, which is already not quite enough. You're spending to educate kids. Why not have some deductions or some credits?"

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.