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Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

‘Not a clear picture.’ Middle Georgia school districts prepare for voucher impact

The state will cover up to $6,500 for students who transfer from low-performing public schools to private schools
Ross Williams | Georgia Recorder
Gov. Brian Kemp signed off on the 2025 budget at a signing ceremony. Later that day, he vetoed a dozen bills.

A new law designed to subsidize private school tuition for students in Georgia’s lowest performing public schools may have limited impact in districts like Bibb County, where most public school students are experiencing poverty and the cost of private school remains out of reach for most families.

The law, dubbed the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act, will provide up to $6,500 in state money to help cover the cost of private school tuition for students who have been enrolled for at least one year in one of the hundreds of schools identified by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement in a draft list of the lowest performing 25% in the state.

The draft list includes two-thirds of Bibb County’s public schools – a total of 20 – plus Cirrus Academy, a charter school authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission.

The new law is set to take effect next July and will sunset after a decade, according to the legislation.

In the meantime, the particulars of how the scholarship will work will be ironed out by the Georgia Board of Education and a new statewide authority created in the bill called the Georgia Education Savings Authority.

Laura Corley | The Macon Newsroom

Public school districts in Middle Georgia are taking a wait-and-see approach in anticipation of more direction that would allow each to prepare for potential financial impacts.

“We really don’t have a clear picture of how to play out,” Bibb County School District Superintendent Dan Sims said. “We really don’t have any way …  to know who would even be interested in such an option.”

In Macon, a $6,500 voucher doesn’t buy much when it comes to private school tuition. The most expensive private school, Stratford Academy, costs between $19,500 and $21,400 per year for elementary, middle and high school grades. First Presbyterian Day School and Mount de Sales Academy are slightly below that range. Messages sent to Rachel Adams, head of school at Stratford Academy, were not returned.

Most private schools in Macon offer some sort of merit or need-based financial assistance but it is not guaranteed.

Tuition at the most affordable private schools ranges from $8,100 and $12,600 for elementary through high school. Many private schools also require an application fee and admissions test.

“If it’s only $6,500, you really are talking about a family structure that will be able to afford the balance,” Sims said of the difference between local private school tuition and the state’s voucher. “I’m sure we have some families who will be able to afford the balance.”

The percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches at each of the 20 Bibb County public schools identified by the state ranges from 51% to 93%. The average poverty rate for all 20 schools is 68%.

Bibb County Board of Education at-large member Daryl Morton said the voucher amount is “a drop in the bucket.”

The law, Morton said, “simply widens the gaps between those who have resources and those who don’t rather than addressing the real educational issues we have that include adequate pay for our teachers, fully funding public education and supporting the constitutional commitment the legislature has to provide all children with a free and adequate public education.”

District to District

The new law also will allow students to transfer to the public school of their choice whether it be within or outside their current school district. The only stipulation is the receiving school district must agree to enroll the student and the parents are responsible for arranging transportation. The voucher also could be used for home school students.

Seven Houston County public schools are included on the state’s draft list of its lowest-performing schools. Houston County School District spokesperson Jennifer Jones said the district is “awaiting guidance and more information about how this will be implemented, and which schools will be included.”

Though none of the Monroe County public schools are on the state’s draft list of lowest-performing schools, superintendent Jim Finch has concerns about the new law.

“I’m personally concerned that the percentage threshold will not remain at 25% and further expansion of this program will continue in future legislative sessions,” Finch said in an email to The Macon Newsroom. “There will be virtually no oversight to the many schools who will be receiving this money. I’m all for school choice and for parents having the flexibility to choose their child’s educational provider.

“I am, however, against taxpayer money going to certain schools who are not required by law to be transparent about their policies, procedures, finances, curriculum, student achievement, and many other facets of a public school’s business that we’re accountable to the public for.

Starting in July 2026, the law will allow students who attend one of the lowest-performing schools to transfer to public schools outside their home districts.

In theory, a student attending one of the 20 Bibb County public schools or one of the seven Houston County public schools identified on the state’s draft list could transfer to a school in Monroe County if Monroe County schools accept the student.

“We are waiting on further guidance from the state DOE,” Finch said regarding the district-to-district transfer option. “Because of that we are reserving comments about potential public-to-public transfers at this time.”

The Push for Vouchers

Private school vouchers laws are increasingly being established in states across the country and not without controversy.

Supporters of the bill say it offers another choice for education to students who are locked in to chronically failing public schools because of their home address.

“A driver behind this is the belief that a child’s zip code should not determine their future,” State Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, said. “Right now, when it comes to the education sector and the education they get K through 12, it largely does. … This gives parents and students more educational options to make the best decisions possible for their child.”

Kennedy, a co-sponsor of Georgia’s voucher bill, said he supported the bill because, as he understood, “a lot of safeguards have been built into one would say to argue to make sure that the public school system has continued to be supported at the rate it is now, but the truth is no. It’s with the implementation of this the financial funds flowing into these schools per child –  and that’s how you have to look at it –actually increases for all public schools.”

It was unclear how the law would result in an increase in funds for public schools. Messages seeking clarity from Kennedy on this matter were not answered.

Critics of the voucher law say it is a mechanism to siphon taxpayer money from public schools to funnel into private institutions that lack transparency and accountability standards required of public schools.

The National Education Association and the Georgia Association of Educators both take the position that such bills open the door to discriminatory admission practices and the potential for financial fraud and abuse.

Georgia Board of Education Member Jason Downey, who also is a lawyer in Macon, did not reply to a couple of requests for comments.

Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, voted against the bill because “it hurts the public school system. Period.”

Lucas likened the law to a return to segregation, only instead of racial it is economic.

“Poverty plays a great part in what we are dealing with,” he said. “The reason you had private schools in the beginning was because the segregation folks didn’t want their kids to go to school with those kids of color. And now you find a way, ‘Well, I’m gonna get my child’s education paid for by the public and I’m going to send them to a private school.’ ”

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].


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