Local residents mixed on state’s private school vouchers

File Credit: Photo by CDC via Pexels

When Gov. Brian Kemp signed a controversial school voucher bill into law earlier this year, it left some educators feeling apprehensive. In the wake of the bill, local residents are also feeling mixed on how to handle education options for their children. 

Homeschooling is now the fastest-growing form of education, particularly among families of color post-pandemic. A recent NBC News report estimated that over 13% of Black households are now homeschooling, up from its previous 3% prior to 2020. 

“We’re looking for experiences that speak to our culture, our history,” said Nicole Doyle, organizer of a DeKalb County co-op assisting Black homeschoolers in and around the Atlanta metro. According to Doyle, over 90% of her members are non-white families seeking a more energized ecosystem of support for their young learners beyond the traditional classroom.  

The passing of Georgia’s school voucher program aims to incentivize families to choose private schooling and at-home learning. The bill offers $6,500 per year for 21,500 students across the state. 

Supporters of the legislation praise its pro-choice approach to education. In his 2024 State of the State speech, Kemp offered his support for the then-pending bill. 

“I firmly believe we can take an all-of-the-above approach to education options,” he said. 

But opponents say the bill is nothing more than another part of a conservative mission to defund public schools, prioritizing privilege and hurting families who are already struggling to provide for their children. The bill brings into question a broader change in the landscape and the future of public education.

“This bill is a thinly veiled effort to segregate and discriminate under the guise of choice,” State Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes (D-Duluth) said. “Private institutions free to pick their students will inevitably leave behind those who perhaps need the most support – our special needs students, our struggling learners.”

State congressional support for the voucher bill echoes Kemp’s optimism that families with eligible students will now have more educational options. But some critics worry about how many families can afford private school, which costs on average $11,955 per year according to Private School Review, or how many will have the time to dedicate to at-home learning year-round.  

“Girl, bye,” said Doyle, who has written to the state to point out what she views as huge red flags with the legislation. “What some people don’t realize is they will report you to the state attorney if we don’t like your record keeping. All these Black faces being criminalized again by people who don’t see that Black and Hispanic families are reported to the state at double the rate when homeschooling.” 

Doyle said she is wary of the legislation and that no representatives from homeschooling will be present on the governing board overseeing expense reports submitted by families on how they’ve spent their voucher funds. 

Sarah Choi, an Atlanta-based writer and mother of a homeschooler, said independent schooling has made a positive effect on her family. While she admits to not knowing the complete scope of the voucher program, Choi said she doesn’t see the program impacting her family’s current way of doing things.

“We aren’t giving a middle finger to the education system,” she said. “My family aligns its lifestyle principle on being good humans. I’m driven by principle as opposed to environment. I’m a parent concierge.”

A “parent concierge” is an idea similar to “Reggio Emilia.” 

Reggio Emilia is an educational approach that centers its philosophy of early and primary childhood pedagogical development in and around a child “informing” – demonstrating interests or curiosities to the parent or educator who responds by providing information, books, activities, or field trips based on the child’s cues. 

Moonrise is a Decatur co-learning center supporting Atlanta area independent schoolers. It sponsors group activities, trips, and access for families seeking additional learning and social opportunities outside of the traditional school environment and home.

“Most schools are open from 8am-3pm and close during the summer,” reads Moonrises’ website. “Private schools are prohibitively expensive, charter schools are lotteries, and public schools have zoning restrictions. Moonrise solves these problems by giving families a flexible place for kids to learn and make friends close to home. We give parents a real choice in where their kids learn, rather than being stuck with zoning restrictions that force painful and expensive compromise.”

Chois is a member of Moonrise, and said that homeschooling is just a different kind of private school. 

“Sometimes parents are simply just left with the choice of fighting for the rights of your child’s individual interest, which could inadvertently negatively impact others because you’re in these community-led environments,” she said. 

Choi is referring to both public and private schools challenged with the responsibility for multiple children while being expected to benefit each pupil. She said this is one of the reasons she chose homeschooling in the first place. 

“$6,500 a year goes a long way if you’re a homeschooler,” she said. “That pays for more than an entire year at Moonrise. But time is money. How many working families truly have the time for homeschooling?”

While the voucher program is intended to provide opportunity for children attending failing public schools, most failing schools serve areas where the average household income sits at or below the poverty line. And with the astronomical pricing of private schools, and the time needed to dedicate to at-home learning, critics worry the vouchers will go unused or affluent families will receive convenient discounts on their huge tuitions. 

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