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Blow for GOP lawmakers: Most Georgia conservative voters oppose using taxpayer money to pay for private schooling

Georgia – Georgia’s Republican legislators are moving forward with a plan for a new private school subsidy, despite a recent poll by The AJC showing many voters don’t agree with this. The poll, conducted between January 3-11 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs, included 1,007 registered voters and showed a 3.1% margin of error. It found that 60% of these voters, half of which were conservatives, are against using public money for private education in certain cases.

Most Georgians trust the public school system

Many people who answered the poll believe in the public school system but think it falls short in teaching about racism.

This survey comes at a time when Republican leaders in Georgia are trying to create a new method to use tax money for private schools, commonly known as “vouchers.” Key Republican figures in the House, Senate, and Governor Brian Kemp are backing this initiative.

Georgia's Republican legislators are moving forward with a plan for a new private school subsidy, but poll shows voters don't like it

Efforts to pass a voucher law happen every year. Last year, a bill almost passed but didn’t get enough votes in the House. The bill, which aims to provide $6,500 yearly for students leaving underperforming public schools, is now under further review. This money would be taken from the state’s funding for that public school, and parents could use it for private school fees or homeschooling costs.

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Supporters of this idea say it gives families a choice and helps with expenses. Critics argue it takes money away from public schools. Georgia already has two such subsidies: one with a $120 million tax credit limit and another for students with special needs or medical conditions. Poll participant Asia Blount believes these vouchers aren’t fair as they only help a few people.

“If you want your child to go to a private school, then it should be out of your own pocket,” said Blount, whose daughter attends a public middle school.

She looked into the courses at a nearby private school and found them better. However, as a fast-food restaurant manager, she said the tuition was too high, even with the $6,500 subsidy from SB 233. Blount prefers investing in public schools by increasing teacher salaries and reducing class sizes. She believes that if the state funds private schools, public schools will suffer:

The AJC poll also showed trust in local public schools. Most people trust their school district to choose suitable books for libraries, with liberals more confident than conservatives. Regardless of political views, there’s a general belief in districts’ handling of student violence risks.

Georgia's Republican legislators are moving forward with a plan for a new private school subsidy, but poll shows voters don't like it

However, confidence dips when it comes to teaching about racism, with Black and conservative participants more doubtful. The survey shows people have similar trust in Georgia’s K-12 schools and the state legislature, with about three-quarters showing some confidence in both. But colleges and universities in Georgia are more trusted, with 9 out of 10 people expressing varying degrees of confidence.

According to Audrey Haynes, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, conservatives might see Governor Kemp’s focus on public school teacher pay raises as an indirect approval.

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“This may play into the belief that our public schools are doing quite well,” Haynes, who was not involved in the AJC’s poll, said by email.

Despite political claims that educators are pushing personal views on topics like sexuality and racial equity, trust in schools remains. In 2022, Republicans, led by Governor Kemp, passed a law limiting classroom discussions on controversial topics. And last year, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones criticized the spending of state universities on diversity and inclusion programs.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona sees these moves as efforts to weaken public education’s credibility.

“This is very intentional, when we do book bans, when we create transphobia and we create a new boogeyman every couple years,” said Cardona, during a visit this week to the AJC.

He also suggested that those supporting vouchers aim to profit from public education funds.

On the other hand, Tony West from the pro-voucher group Americans for Prosperity believes in personalized education funded by taxpayers. He says it’s about giving families more control over their children’s education, whether in public or private schools.

West also pointed out a difference in opinion compared to the AJC poll, citing a May 2022 ballot question. In this, 80% of Republican voters agreed that state education funds should be available for the school of the student’s choice, be it public or private.

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AJC poll results on private school vouchers

The poll was conducted Jan. 3-11 for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. It questioned 1,007 registered voters and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. (Some totals may exceed 100% due to rounding.)

The Georgia Legislature is considering legislation that would allow the use of taxpayer funds to pay for private schooling in some circumstances. Do you support or oppose the use of taxpayer money to support students who want a private education?

  • Strongly support 20%
  • Somewhat support 15%
  • Somewhat oppose 16%
  • Strongly oppose 44%
  • Don’t know 6%

How much do you trust the schools in your district to make good choices — do you completely trust, mostly trust, mostly distrust, or completely distrust them to ensure books in school libraries are appropriate for students?

  • Completely trust 19%
  • Mostly trust 48%
  • Mostly distrust 15%
  • Completely distrust 12%
  • Don’t know 6%

How much do you trust the schools in your district to make good choices — do you completely trust, mostly trust, mostly distrust, or completely distrust them to teach about racism in the United States?

  • Completely trust 13%
  • Mostly trust 32%
  • Mostly distrust 23%
  • Completely distrust 26%
  • Don’t know 7%

How much do you trust the schools in your district to make good choices — do you completely trust, mostly trust, mostly distrust, or completely distrust them to respond appropriately when a student poses a risk of doing something violent?

  • Completely trust 19%
  • Mostly trust 43%
  • Mostly distrust 20%
  • Completely distrust 10%
  • Don’t know 8%

How much confidence do you have in Georgia K-12 public schools?

  • A great deal 10%
  • Quite a lot 19%
  • Some 49%
  • Very little 18%
  • None 2%
  • Don’t know 2%

How much confidence do you have in Georgia’s colleges and universities?

  • A great deal 22%
  • Quite a lot 29%
  • Some 38%
  • Very little 9%
  • None 1%
  • Don’t know 2%
Calliope Hargrave

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