Earlier this month, AYA development director Erin Blair interviewed Lisa Kelly, executive director of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program.
Erin Blair (AYA): The educational tax credit system that has been approved in recent years by Georgia lawmakers has been criticized by some as “offering more privilege to the rich or privileged.” How do you respond to that?
Lisa Kelly (GOAL): The Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program was the first organization formed to implement Georgia’s education tax credit law, and GOAL is the largest of such organizations by a significant margin. From the outset, GOAL has awarded scholarships on the basis of financial need, through careful review of family size and income. I believe the results speak for themselves. Since inception, GOAL has awarded scholarships to more than 9,800 students all across the state. The average income of the recipient families is $25,496, and the average scholarship award is $3,682. Minority students have received over 43% of these scholarship awards.
Through this program, low and middle income families are able to seek the best K-12 educational opportunity for their children. Now, children who were previously limited because of a financial barrier can fulfill their academic potential and benefit from important character formation.
Can you give us an idea of the depth and breadth of the impact that scholarships awarded by GOAL have made across our state?
GOAL has awarded scholarships throughout Georgia — from the north Georgia mountains to Savannah, Macon, Augusta, Albany, Columbus, and many other cities — with the number of awarded scholarships proportionate to the population in each of those Georgia regions. Frankly, one of the beautifully designed components of this tax credit opportunity is that it taps into a deep yearning on the part of Georgia taxpayers to improve K-12 education in their own communities, and allows these contributors to do so. We have conducted surveys of GOAL recipient families across the state, and parents express their relief and delight in their children’s new private schools, often citing safety, classroom conduct, and academic excellence as meaningful differences.
We have seen a significant growth in the broad understanding among the AYA constituency in the tremendous impact that GOAL can make for a school like AYA. How can our constituents share this understanding with our lawmakers to help them clearly see the need to raise the cap on educational tax credits?
Our perspective — which is shared by tens of thousands of Georgians — is that under the present Education Expense Credit program, student outcomes have improved, and communities throughout Georgia have been strengthened. The program, which empowers both low and middle income families and prevents the type of government over-regulation that is hurting school-choice programs in other states, is one of the national school-choice movement’s great success stories.
We would encourage those of you who have a close relationship with your legislators to visit or call those lawmakers to
- Explain the need for a significant cap increase;
- Encourage them to resist attempts by some school-choice advocates to undermine the present program; and
- Inform them that GOAL proposed important amendments which, in addition to raising the cap, would increase SSO transparency and accountability, prevent a few large corporations from absorbing precious tax credits to the exclusion of thousands of individual taxpayers, and protect private-school independence from excessive government regulation.
Finally, while the failure of state lawmakers to expand this program is frustrating, national school-choice experts consider our tax credit scholarship program to be a model one. We are thankful that each year there are $58 million worth of tax credits to improve the lives of children and the communities in which they reside. Nevertheless, the possibilities for empowering even more families who are desperate for greater opportunities for access to learning dictate that we remain hopeful and diligent.
We are thrilled to work with Atlanta Youth Academy, the mission of which we embrace and appreciate whole-heartedly. Your delivery of an excellent Christian education to Atlanta youth is changing lives and developing leaders. Thank you, AYA, for all that you do for Georgia’s children!