Justin Wang and Ishan Mahajan of Lambert High School in Forsyth County speak to Georgia Rep. Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth, about a school voucher bill. (Photo credit: John Arthur Brown)

ATLANTA – Legislation to offer private-school vouchers to Georgia students attending low-performing public schools failed Wednesday night in the state House of Representatives.  

The bill would have created $6,500 vouchers for Georgia students to use for private-school or home-schooling expenses if they were assigned to attend a public school in the lowest-performing quartile of public schools in the state.  

The bill passed in the Senate earlier this month but ultimately failed to survive in the House, losing on an 85-89 vote.  A group of mostly rural Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the measure.  

The House Rules Committee made several last-minute changes to the bill on Wednesday in an effort to make the proposal more palatable. The amendments would have tied the scholarship amount to changes in the state’s education funding formula and changed the method for determining which schools qualify as low performing.  

But those changes failed to convince enough legislators to vote for the bill.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones, R-Milton, argued school voucher measures are popular with voters of all backgrounds, including rural voters and Democrats. She said Georgia students deserve a choice about where they study.  

“Some students may learn best in a home school environment, in a charter school … and, yes, sometimes in a private school,” she said. “An education can change a life. Who are we not to give some students another option?”  

Democrats argued the voucher measure would divert funds from public education and that the $6,500 scholarship amount would be insufficient to cover private school tuition.  

“This bill does nothing but perpetuate the gross inequities that have existed in our state’s education system for far too long,” said Rep. Miriam Paris, D-Macon. “Maybe if we spent as much time and resources on addressing the root issues related to student achievement in our state … like getting literacy taken care of, maybe then we might begin to see some real progress.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.