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As public school advocates, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial frontrunners Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans have both taken a firm stance against privatized public education and especially school vouchers.
But at a recent forum featuring the two candidates, Abrams accused Evans of voting for vouchers when she was a state representative.
"You voted for vouchers. You didn’t vote for it the last two times, but you voted for it in the beginning," Abrams said on Oct. 2.
Abrams later said she was referring to Evans’ involvement with a bill about the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization.
The program began in 2008, three years before Evans held a seat in Georgia’s General Assembly. Back then, the Student Scholarship Organization bill established a program that allows independent individuals and businesses to receive tax credits if they make donations to local private schools. The money is then used to fund scholarships that are given to qualified, low-income students to attend the private institutions.
Abrams claims that Evans had voted in favor of school vouchers a few years later, when the Legislature made revisions to the program.
Evans did vote for an early version of the 2011 bill, but not for the final version. According to her campaign, she only voted for the measure because it had provisions that improved the program’s transparency. When the final bill hit the House floor with its final revisions, the transparency clauses were removed, so Evans voted against the bill.
Evans has also maintained that she has never voted for vouchers because the Student Scholarship Organization is not a voucher program. On June 26, 2017, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that stated that the scholarship program is not a voucher program, because it is financed by private individuals, not public revenue, a fact that Abrams had acknowledged during the debate.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the Student Scholarship Organization’s status as a voucher program is still subject to debate. Before the forum, the Evans campaign had already been defending her stance against vouchers, and on Oct. 12 the Abrams campaign shared its opinion on Facebook that the funds in the program are "vouchers by another name."
Abrams said Evans "voted for (school) vouchers...in the beginning." Abrams said she was referring to the Student Scholarship Organization program.
Some aspects of Abrams’ statement are wrong. Evans wasn’t in the legislature in 2008 when program was approved. In 2011, Evans voted for revisions to the program, although she voted against the final version after those revisions were dropped.
Over the years, there’s been a legal dispute over whether the tax credits that fund the Student Scholarship Organization make the program different from school vouchers. In June 2017 Georgia’s Supreme Court ruled that the "voucher" label did not apply.
Abrams' claim had some accurate points, but it left out important details. We rate it Half True.
NPR Ed, "School Vouchers 101: What They Are, How They Work - And Do They Work?" Dec. 7, 2016.
Georgia’s WIN LIST, video of forum "LIVE STREAM -- We’re With Stacey Campaign Conversation", Oct. 2, 2017.
Georgia Student Scholarship Organization website, accessed Oct. 12, 2017
Georgia General Assembly, Representative Stacey Evans, accessed Oct. 11, 2017
Georgia General Assembly, Student Scholarship Organizations bill, HB 1133, 2008.
Email interview, Priyanka Mantha, spokeswoman, Stacey Abrams for Governor , Oct. 12, 2017.
Georgia General Assembly, The Revised Student Scholarship Organization bill, HB 325, 2011.
Georgia General Assembly, House Vote #182 HB 325, voted on Mar. 16, 2011 .
Georgia General Assembly, the first version of the Revised Student Organization bill with the transparency provisions, 2011
Georgia General Assembly, House Vote #366 HB 325, 2011.
Phone interview, Adam Ney, research director, Stacey Evans for Governor, Oct. 12, 2017.
Phone interview, Seth Clark, communications director, Evans for Governor, Oct. 11, 2017.
Supreme Court of Georgia, "Summaries of Opinions: Gaddy V. Georgia Department of Revenue", June 26, 2017.
Abrams’ Facebook post about the forum, Oct. 12, 2017.
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