ATLANTA – The state Senate gave final passage Wednesday to controversial legislation offering private-school vouchers to Georgia students attending low-performing public schools.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 33-21 along party lines to adopt a version of the vouchers bill the state House’s GOP majority narrowly passed last week.

The measure includes a number of changes to a version of the bill the Senate passed last year. It would limit the voucher program’s financial impact on state coffers by prohibiting spending more than 1% of Georgia’s Quality Basic Education (QBE) student funding formula on vouchers, a cap that is currently set at $140 million a year.

In a bid to steer the vouchers to low- and middle-income Georgians, only students in families earning no more than 400% of the federal poverty limit – currently $120,000 a year for a family of four -would qualify for the program. The cap would be increased only if the General Assembly puts more money into vouchers.

Wednesday’s debate focused in part on which students would benefit from private-school vouchers.

Since wealthy Georgians already can afford private schools without the state’s help, vouchers are designed to help working-class families, said Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth.

“This bill is for the single moms out there working two jobs to keep the lights on who want school choice for their kids,” he said.

But Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said the $6,500 vouchers the bill offers aren’t enough for poor families to send their children to a private school.

“The state spends more than that on public schools,” she said. “$6,500 is a shiny object to distract from the failures of Georgia’s education system.”

Parent and other Senate Democrats also argued that spending $140 million a year on private-school vouchers will divert tax dollars from already underfunded public schools.

Republicans countered that the money that goes into the QBE formula for public schools will not be affected by the funding going into vouchers.

The House also added several provisions to Senate Bill 233 that are unrelated to vouchers. The legislation codifies into state law several teacher pay raises the General Assembly has funded since 2019, Kemp’s first year in office.

It also lets public schools spend capital construction money on new and improved pre-kindergarten facilities.

The measure now heads to Kemp’s desk for his signature. The governor made vouchers a priority this year, endorsing the bill during his State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate in January.