Exciting News: Georgia to Debate Universal School Vouchers Next Year

Economic times are rough. Many state budgets look to be short of money. Having recently passed one of the nation’s most generous tax credit scholarship programs, lawmakers in the state of Georgia have a bold idea they plan to bring forward early next year:

Republican State Senator Eric Johnson plans to introduce legislation in January 2009 that would give each public school student a voucher equal to the money the state currently spends on his or her education. The voucher could be used for tuition at the parents’ school of choice — public, private or religious.

The Fox News article is talking about universal vouchers, an idea first introduced by the great economist Milton Friedman in 1955. It represents more choice, more opportunity, and a major change to the education system that puts parents and consumers back in charge. Of course, there are critics:

[Professional Association of Georgia Educators spokesman Tim] Callahan says voucher programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., have failed to deliver promised results, and Georgia lawmakers should focus on strengthening public schools instead of creating incentives to leave them.

Too bad Callahan’s statement is misleading. The best research studies show that vouchers help the students who use them and help the public education system to improve through competition. If the improvements shown have all been limited and modest improvements, it’s because the reforms have been limited and modest. It will be interesting to see whether Georgia is ready to take a bigger step in advancing school choice.

In addition to talking about the cost savings and the promise of improving academic performance, Senator Johnson and his allies need to talk about the equal opportunity offered to Georgia’s neediest students and the importance of having families – not bureaucrats – in charge. It will be exciting to see what unfolds in the Peach State in 2009.