The bill, sponsored by Bell and co-sponsored by Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), is a response to a recent report by the Southeastern Education Foundation which highlighted a Georgia tax credit program, created in 2008 and managed by the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization, which allows Georgia taxpayers to “donate” a portion of their annual state income tax for use at private schools to provide scholarships to students in kindergarten through high school. Those “donations” are matched dollar-for-dollar with a tax credit on state income tax ― $50 million can be donated each year.

“There are several reasons why this is important to us, but at the end of the day, it’s very simple,” Bell said today. “Our state education dollars should not be used to fund discrimination. The SSOs were presented as scholarship programs designed to help students escape from failing public schools into private education.”

That hasn’t been the case, Bell added.

“There have been numerous reports, specifically by the Southeastern Education Foundation, and most recently in the New York Times, that have shown taxpayers’ dollars are getting to religious-based institutions that specifically discriminate on the basis of race, gender, national origin, religion, sexual orientation or disability. There have been reports of harassment. There have also been reports of students being asked to leave schools. At the end of the day, public dollars should not fund this kind of discrimination and bias,” Bell said.

Drop-Out Deterrent and End Cyber-Bullying Acts discussed

Waites, one of three openly lesbian state lawmakers, today announced her bill, HB 19, the Drop-Out Deterrent Act, which would raise the age requirement from 16 to 17 for a student to drop out of high school without parental consent.

Waites said that the bill could help reduce Georgia students who drop out of school from falling into poverty or becoming trapped in the state’s justice system.

“It is our belief by extending the child’s stay in school, we are increasing their likelihood of employment and being a productive citizen,” Waites said. “According to the Department of Education, high school drop outs are twice as likely to live in poverty, as well as to commit crimes.”

The End Cyber Bullying Act, which will be introduced on Feb. 13, according to the House Democratic Caucus, would expand on anti-bullying efforts enacted last year. The bill would add acts of bullying that occur on social networking websites, cell phones and PDAs, whereas current protections are only on school property.

 

Top photo: The Georgia State Capitol. (by Dyana Bagby)

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