Friday, February 6, 2009

Vouchers are the way schools can improve themselves
by Senator Eric Johnson

In this space, GONSO's Executive Editor John Sugg recently offered his view about the drawbacks of school vouchers for Georgians. Click here to read Sugg's column.

Clearly, our society does not want government picking our doctor, where we live or worship, or where our children attend college.

But for more than 150 years this nation has tolerated allowing government to tell families where they must send their children to school for a K-12 public education.

In a truly free society, do we believe parents or government are best capable of making the decision where children should go to school? If the answer is parents, then they should have the right to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. After all, it is their children and their tax dollars that purchase educational services.

Under my voucher plan, Senate Bill 90, parents who want to transfer their child to another public or private school would earn a voucher equivalent to what the state pays to educate a child. A parent could choose to transfer their child to another public school within their home school system or another district. But the public school transfer can only happen if the school or district chooses to accept the child. That is local control in its purest form.

If a parent believes a private school might be more compatible, a state-funded voucher would be available to utilize at the private school of their choice. The average private school tuition among the state's 662 private schools is $5,800, according to a 2008 survey. The vast majority of schools are not expensive academies or prep schools, but church schools, Jewish day schools, and others with affordable tuition.

Whether a child transfers to a public or private school, the parent exercising choice would have to provide transportation. The parent and child would have to sign a contract that the child would not create behavior problems in that school. There would be no other government-imposed regulations on private schools.

We can follow the example of the HOPE scholarship and the state's pre-K program in creating a voucher program. With each of those, students are allotted public funds and parents can choose a public or private school to provide a college or pre-school education. With that model, SB 90 can be a K-12 voucher program with widespread success.

I firmly believe, as research has shown in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida, that public schools will improve when they are faced with actual competition. Wendy's makes a better hamburger because it may lose patrons to McDonald's. Public school administrators, fearful of losing students, will re-energize and work harder to improve their schools. When offered more options, parents are likely to become more engaged in their child's education just as they are when they choose a health care provider.

The status quo lobbyists will fight to the death to prevent one child from leaving their grips. But I have to ask, if they were doing such a great job, what do they have to fear? Cries of "disaster" are already being heard. Yet vouchers save taxpayers money and provide more funds for the students who remain in public schools. In fact, class sizes should get smaller. Local school boards and teachers should welcome that.

If we truly believe Georgia families are smart enough to pick a day care, college, a physician or a safe place to live, then surely we can entrust them to pick a place to send their children from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week. Let's see what happens when we do.

Eric Johnson is a Republican state Senator from Savannah.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. It's the end of another week that's seen temps plunge into the mid-teens overnight across Georgia to not even breaking freezing while the sun's up. Now we're heading into the weekend with darn-near balmy temperatures. While it's a welcome change from the past two days, I'm siding with the sage senior citizen I encountered at my local YMCA this morning who said: "Warming up is good, but these changes'll kill ya!"

If state Senator Eric Johnson gets his way, change will come to our schools by way of vouchers. In today's Green Sheet you will find his Soapbox column that outlines why he has introduced legislation to create vouchers that would allow parents more choice in choosing schools for their kids. His column is a direct refutation of the stand GONSO Editor John Sugg took recently and we're offering a link to Sugg's original column here for you to use as a counterpoint on your op-ed pages. Put 'em side by side and see for yourself.

GONSO's Wendy Parker spends signing day with new Georgia State football coach Bill Curry as he recruits his first class of players for the debut 2010 team.

The Senate could vote as early as Monday on Georgia Power's plan to start charging residential customers for a nuclear power plant that has yet to be built. GONSO's Maggie Lee has a powerful preview of our electrical future might be.

And GONSO's bon vivant columnist Hollis Gillespie made a visit to the capitol and came away thinking it takes all kinds to make the government work, from the suits to the criminals. Now, who's who, exactly?

As always, we'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and any story ideas to executive editor John Sugg at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org. You can also call us at 800-891-3459.

Your input is crucial to what we do. Have a great, and warm, weekend.

-- Lee Landenberger, Managing Editor


Today's GONSO

Nuke Financing Passes Committee, Goes to Full Senate

by Maggie Lee
The Senate could vote as early as Monday on Georgia Power's plan to start charging residential customers for a nuclear power plant that has yet to be built. GONSO's Maggie Lee reports.
Full Story

Eight months in a cloud of dust and paperwork lead to GSU's very first football players

by Wendy Parker
For schools like Georgia and Florida, Signing Day is about landing football players who can take their team to the championship. For Georgia State, which will field its first NCAA football team in 2010, this year's Signing Day meant the birth of a team. GONSO's Wendy Parker follows Head Coach Bill Curry as the school signs, after an 8-month chase, its first players for the upcoming season.
Full Story

Capitol Debts to Pay

by Hollis Gillespie
Bon vivant columnist Hollis Gillespie made a visit to the state capitol's cafeteria and found that sometimes it's hard to tell who's a criminal and who's not. Then again, there's the guy wearing the Department of Corrections shirt who works in the cafeteria.
Full Story

SOAPBOX

Vouchers are the way schools can improve themselves

by Senator Eric Johnson
Competition is one of the keystones of American society. Without it, writes state Senator Eric Johnson of Savannah, schools won't improve. His legislation to create a voucher system would change the landscape for the state of Georgia, a landscape that, he writes, desperately needs improvement. He's at odds with GONSO Executive Editor John Sugg, who sees vouchers as exactly the wrong idea.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
Legislators prep bills to tackle Georgia's sex trade 'underworld'
by K. Patrick Jensen
Set 'em up Joe for another round on Sunday alcohol sales
by K. Patrick Jensen
Peanut catastrophe shows Georgia must be aggressive in protecting consumers from food contamination
by J. Randolph Evans
Time for Georgians to get real about taxes
by Rep. Stacey Abrams

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