The Georgia Department of Revenue recently announced that on January 1 the program hit its yearly cap of $58 million, a full three weeks earlier than last year.
The program, open to children in grades K-12 from low-to-middle income families, was created by the General Assembly in 2008 to provide parents who could not afford private school on their own with an alternative to sending their children to public schools within the state, many of which have low test scores and high dropout rates.
The program offers those who contribute a dollar-for-dollar tax credit of up to $1,000. Married couples filing jointly can receive up to $2,500.
Businesses are allowed tax credits of up to 75% of their state income tax liability, writes Dave Williams for The Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Critics feel the program is putting too much pubic money into the hands of private schools, many of which are run by religious institutions. Last year a lawsuit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court in hopes of having the program considered unconstitutional, arguing that the program not only violated the Georgia Constitution, but also tax laws by religious schools receiving public money, donors receiving illegal benefits and school programs being run by private groups.
The case is still pending.
Supporters of the program are quick to cite how fast the program depletes its funding, stating that proves the program is popular. A poll conducted by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation last spring showed over 70% of citizens in the state support the program, with 61.8% saying the cap should be raised to $100 million.
In addition, backers believe that the program offers parents more school choice and that it saves the state millions of dollars it would have spent on public education for scholarship winners, writes James Salzer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Supporters are planning to try to push the cap in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. State Representative Earl Ehrhart said he plans to file a bill that would increase the cap to $250 million beginning next year.
“This makes a strong case that it’s a popular program for kids,” said state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, a Republican from Powder Springs and one of the fathers of the program.
The money from the program ran out within three weeks last year, prompting many scholarship organizations to suggest donor applications be submitted by the end of 2014. Thousands of applications were then sent electronically from those organizations to the Department of Revenue, beginning at 12:01am on New Year’s Day.