Sen. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, said he hoped no students would need to receive "vouchers" under his plan, Senate Bill 458. Under the measure, students could apply for the voucher, or check, to pay for the cost of transportation to another public school or even a private school if their school lost accreditation or failed to meet state academic standards for seven consecutive years.
Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, questioned whether the 53,000 Clayton County students at whom the bill was targeted would be able to find space in surrounding districts and private schools.
Johnson called that unlikely and said the bill would apply to students numbering "in the hundreds," and that the roughly $4,000 voucher for private school tuition would have to be supplemented by parents.
Spelling out his opposition, Sen. Michael Meyer von Bremen, D-Albany, said students with higher test scores would be most apt to flee a failing school, leaving a struggling school with a population that would drag it even further down.
"These schools will go into a rut they will never get out of," Meyer von Bremen said.
As Clayton County schools face losing accreditation on Sept. 1, 19 other Georgia schools have been on the state's needs improvement list for seven consecutive years and something must be done, Johnson said.
"At some point we have to say the system has failed, and it's not about the system; it's about the child," Johnson said.
The bill now moves to the House.