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Faith First Georgia: Report Promotes Anti-Choice Agenda

Student scholarship organizations "do not receive a single penny of Georgia tax funds," an official said.

Weeks after an Atlanta education policy group suggested that some scholarship money generated through a Georgia tax credit program had been used at religious schools that ban gay, lesbian and bisexual students, a student scholarship organization this week issued its own report.

Faith First Georgia in Marietta operates the SSO that makes it possible for needy students to attend Shiloh Hills Christian School, one of two North Cobb schools mentioned in the January 2013 report from the Southern Education Foundation. North Cobb Christian School was the other one.

In a statement distributed this week, Faith First Georgia chief legal officer Jonathan Crumly Sr. said that the foundation "misstates the law and misleads the public to promote its anti-choice agenda."

Here is the full statement from Faith First Georgia:

Last month, the Southern Education Foundation, Inc. (“SEF”) published an “Issue Brief” that was packed with misleading assertions of fact and law. That “report” misstates the law and misleads the public to promote its anti-choice agenda. Unfortunately, many media outlets published information from that “report” without confirming any of these incorrect assertions.

The headline of the SEF “report” shouts “Georgia Tax Dollars Help Finance Private Schools” in large, bold letters. This is a complete fabrication and misstatement of the law. The SEF “report” misleads the public by repeating this blatant inaccuracy throughout its “report.”

The truth is that not a single penny of Georgia tax funds is used to fund any Faith First SSO scholarship. Every donation received by Faith First and other SSOs in Georgia come from private individuals and companies. This position is supported by a recent United States Supreme Court decision - Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization (ACSTO) v. Winn, 131 S. Ct. 1436 (2011).

In ACSTO, the individuals challenging Arizona’s tax credit scholarship program (which is similar to Georgia’s SSO laws in all relevant aspects) claimed that the program was supported by taxpayer dollars, just like the SEF “report.”

The Supreme Court rejected this argument out of hand. “When … taxpayers choose to contribute to [SSOs], they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers.” 131 S. Ct. at 1447. The Court noted that “[l]ike contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding [SSO] tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations. Respondents’ contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands.” Id. at 1448. (emphasis added)

Clearly, the entire foundation of the SEF “report” is built upon shifting sand. The issue of whose funds are used for SSO scholarships has been closed since the ACSTO decision – these are private funds, not Georgia tax funds. Presumably, the attorneys working for SEF and on its Board were fully aware that the ACSTO decisions ruled against their position on this fundamental pointbefore SEF issued their “report.”

This blatant, repeated misrepresentation of the law should be enough for any fair-minded person to reject the SEF “report” in its entirety.To compound this error, the SEF “report” advocates for policies that reflect utter intolerance of opposing viewpoints. Such a policy position should be rejected by everyone. By seeking to shut off SSOs to biblically based Christian schools, the SEF seeks to compel adherence to its view of morality. In other words, an organization advocating tolerance is intolerant of any opposing viewpoints. 

Faith First supports the fundamental right of fit parents to raise their children as they desire. Faith First views the SSO program as an opportunity for all Georgia parents to have meaningful choice in the education of their children. The SEF “report” supports compulsion, not choice, in education.

Finally, the SEF desires to stifle fundamental freedoms of free exercise of religion and free association. In essence, the SEF advocates for the denial of equal protection of the law to those with whom it disagrees.

Ironically, the SEF “report” itself admits that if no tax funds are used by SSOs, then it has no grounds to complain about any of the policies of Christian schools participating in the SSO program. In its conclusion the SEF concedes, “[u]nder state and federal constitutions, a private religious institution has the right to believe whatever it thinks Holy Scripture commands. It also has the right under current law to operate its private affairs in accordance with those beliefs.” Even the SEF recognizes that if no Georgia taxfunds are used, its entire “report” is without any legal merit whatsoever.

By deliberately misstating the law about the source of funds for SSO scholarships, the SEF has mislead the public and revealed its anti-choice agenda. Faith First supports school choice for every parent in Georgia.

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GA citizen & taxpayer February 13, 2013 at 02:12 PM
FFG conveniently omits the next sentence of the SEF conclusion quoted above: "But, state financing transforms a private action into an action of the state – from a private action of a particular sect in society to a public action that involves and represents the entire democratic society." And this from the same Issue Brief: "In May, 2012 in a front page investigative story, “Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools,” The New York Times uncovered a wide range of abuses and misuses in Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program – including private schools funded by the program that adhere to strict religious curricula." And omits this, as well: "Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program has diverted more than $170 million in taxpayer funds to cover the tuition costs of students in private schools during the last four years. The program permits individual and corporate taxpayers to divert a portion of their state taxes – a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes – to provide public financing to private organizations called student scholarship organizations (SSOs). In turn, these SSOs provide funds to private schools for all or part of a student’s tuition." So, Faith First Georgia, stop insulting the intelligence of Georgians. State revenues would be increased by $170 million if this Tax Credit Scholarship Program for private schools did not exist.
GA citizen & taxpayer February 13, 2013 at 02:13 PM
Another SSO has issued a very different statement from Faith First Georgia's: "A recent investigation by Atlanta's WSB-TV reveals again what Arete Scholars Fund and other leading Georgia student scholarship organizations have maintained for more than a year - the state's existing tuition tax credit scholarship program is subject to abuse and should be modified and strengthened. As currently implemented by a small number of scholarship organizations, the law's vague language enables unethical practices and potentially jeopardizes the education of more than 11,000 Georgia students served by the program in 2011-12, including approximately 1,000 low-income Arete Scholars. According to the story, the tax credit scholarship program was originally intended to help disadvantaged Georgia students escape struggling public schools, but Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh found it doesn’t always work that way." I see no mention of that original intent on the Faith First Georgia's website. Arete concludes with this: "Now is the time to do what's best for all of Georgia - clean up the program and empower more families of all income levels to select the school that's best for their children."
GA citizen & taxpayer February 13, 2013 at 02:13 PM
But even Arete misses the mark with that last statement If the program is cleaned up the way it should be, families with high and even fairly comfortable income levels should not benefit from the SSO program. Here's a disturbing quote from a 2011 letter by Jonathan Crumly: "I assisted in drafting this bill and it incorporates many of the positive changes we sought to make in 2009. One of the key new improvements is immediately increasing the tax credit cap to $62,500,000 for 2011. But that’s not the best part – every year we reach 90% of the cap, the law provides for an automatic increase of 25% for the next year! Imagine – in 2012 the cap could be $78,125,000 and in 2013 the cap could be nearly $100,000,000! Thankfully, that automatic increase was not instituted. Imagine what our struggling public schools could do with 100 million dollars.
GA citizen & taxpayer February 13, 2013 at 02:14 PM
I omitted a quotation mark. Above should read: Here's a disturbing quote from a 2011 letter by Jonathan Crumly: "I assisted in drafting this bill and it incorporates many of the positive changes we sought to make in 2009. One of the key new improvements is immediately increasing the tax credit cap to $62,500,000 for 2011. But that’s not the best part – every year we reach 90% of the cap, the law provides for an automatic increase of 25% for the next year! Imagine – in 2012 the cap could be $78,125,000 and in 2013 the cap could be nearly $100,000,000!"

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