Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Opinion: About Georgia's tax-credit scholarships being only for the 'rich'


The reactions to yesterday's post about Georgia's tax-credit scholarship program reminded me that opponents of school-choice programs will invariably start talking about recipients' incomes -- specifically, their belief only "rich" or "privileged" people benefit from them. I knew that from past experience, but I thought we might be able to have one discussion without the issue coming up. So much for that.

Students and parents attend the 2016 school choice rally outside the Georgia Capitol. (AJC Photo / Taylor Carpenter)

What's ... odd ... about this argument is the people who tend to make it never seem to want to deal in actual dollar amounts. That's ... curious ... since that information is publicly available. Instead, they only want to characterize the incomes of the scholarship recipients: "rich," or "privileged," or maybe "upper-middle class." Sometimes they simply rely on technical terms such as "highest income quartile." But why not put some dollar signs on those characterizations? We have them, after all.

Here's the answer: The actual dollar signs that go with those terms don't lend themselves quite as well to demagoguery.

So I thought I'd describe in as much detail as possible the dollar figures attached to tax-credit scholarship recipients. All of the figures which follow are drawn from two reports produced by the state Revenue Department for the 2015 calendar year, the most recent data available. If you want to try to demagogue these facts, good luck.

1. The largest single group of recipient families ( 4,012 out of 12,422 , or 32.3 percent) had incomes between $31,015 and $65,818 . This is the third income quartile -- or, as some people might call it, the "upper-middle class." With 2.74 dependents on average in these families, we could expect most of them to have between three and five members. Whether at the top or the bottom of that income range, most families of those sizes could expect to receive health-insurance subsidies via Obamacare -- up to $10,500 per year . Some of the families on the lower end would even qualify for Medicaid, if Georgia were to expand it. The funny thing about that: Some of the same people who support giving these families subsidies for health care oppose giving them families tax-credit scholarships, which average about $3,500 a year , because as everyone knows only "rich" families get those scholarships.

2. The second-largest group of recipient families ( 3,220 out of 12,422 , or 25.9 percent) had even lower incomes: between $14,035 and $31,015 . This is the second income quartile. The families at the bottom end of this income scale don't qualify for Obamacare subsidies -- because their incomes, at less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, are too low . (Obamacare was written with the assumption Medicaid would cover these families.) So the second-largest group of tax-credit scholarship recipients are people whose health care is either subsidized to the tune of thousands of dollars per year, or not subsidized at all because Georgia didn't expand Medicaid. It is worth noting, though, that many of the children in these families would qualify for the children's version of Medicaid in Georgia , PeachCare. And yet, scholarship program opponents would deny them money for a private education.

3. Next comes the "top quartile." The big-time earners. Families who make ... wait for it ... at least $65,819 per year. (This includes 2,861 out of 12,422 families , or 23 percent.) To qualify for this prestigious group, a family need only earn about 30 percent more than the median household income in Georgia. An experienced public-school teacher in Georgia  can earn that much in a year . I don't recall opponents of tax-credit scholarships calling teachers "rich." But if they earn enough to fit in the top quartile, it must be so ... right? Regarding Obamacare subsidies, it's worth noting a family of five (the average number of dependents for scholarship recipients in this quartile is 2.74) can earn $81,900 and get as much in health-insurance subsidies ($3,510) as the average tax-credit scholarship is worth ($3,509). That family of five would have to earn more than $114,000 not to qualify for any Obamacare subsidies at all. But remember: They're in the top quartile, so they must all be "rich"!

4. Finally, we come to the bottom quartile ( 2,329 out of 12,422 , or 18.7 percent), which had incomes below $14,035 . It should go without saying the children in these families would qualify for PeachCare . It's also worth noting there are nearly as many recipient families in this income quartile as in the top one (2,329 vs. 2,861). I'm not sure how that could possibly be, since everyone knows only "rich" people get these scholarships!

***

What should be clear from all this is the standard line from scholarship opponents about this program being nothing but a sop to the "rich" is utterly bogus. I doubt that will stop them from making the claim, but they'll have to resort to some alternative facts to do so.


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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.