SB 233, the Promise Scholarship Account legislations failed last night by a vote of 85-89. One Democrat crossed over to vote with the Republicans, while 16 Republicans crossed over to vote with the Democrats on this bill.
But this post isn’t about the 16 Republicans. It’s about the folks who worked extremely hard to take this legislation further than it’s ever gone before. As I wrote on Saturday, I’ve been part of a growing group of folks who have been trying since 2015 to get Georgia to create Promise Scholarships (as I learned, the effort goes back even further than that). Until this year, we’d never been able to get one of the Legislative Chambers to pass such a bill.
Two people in particular deserve recognition for getting SB 233 successfully through the Senate: Senator Greg Dolezal and Lt. Governor Burt Jones. Not only did they get it passed in the Senate, they were able to convince every Republican Senator to vote in favor of the bill. Thank you Senator and Mr. Lt. Governor!
My colleague Jamie Lord and I set a goal for this session to get a Promise Scholarship bill passed out of the Senate. That would give us time to get the votes we needed in the House over the next year. We knew we had a bigger hill to climb on that side of the building. The last time the House voted on a similar bill was in March of 2018 when HB 482 received only 60 votes in support. However, when the Senate Caucus took their bold stand, momentum began to build in the House.
The GOP’s Jones Caucus in the House got to work. Speaker Pro-Tem Jan Jones and Rep. Todd Jones worked tirelessly until the final hour to win over members, make adjustments to the bill to make it better, and use practically every procedural trick in the book to get the bill passed. Representative Chris Erwin, not known as a school choice supporter, came to our side and helped get the bill out of his committee. It almost worked as we only came up 6 votes short. Thank you Representatives!
Speaker Jon Burns used his position as Speaker to try to persuade members to vote yes. I’m very grateful to the Speaker for doing this. He went from voting against HB 482 in 2018, to advocating for SB 233 in 2023. Thank you Mr. Speaker!
Governor Brian Kemp got involved by going on the radio to express support, speaking to the House GOP Caucus, and I’m told, even calling members into his office to try and persuade them to vote for the bill. As I posted Saturday, this is the first time that I’m aware of a time where a Governor expressed support for a bill like this. Thank you Governor!
I should also mention, perhaps the bravest person in the building: Rep. Mesha Mainor. You might have heard her speech in favor of the bill last week. She resisted the pressure her side of the aisle rained down upon her and stood her ground for what she believed was best for the students of her district. Thank you Representative!
In addition, Majority Caucus Leadership in both chambers were 100% on board with this bill and advocated for it’s passage. Honestly, I don’t recall a bill with this much support from leadership of the House, Senate, and Governor ever having failed. Folks will be talking about this for a while.
Democrats and opponents of school choice have been cheering and jeering since last night. As the AJC reported this morning:
“The cheers in the House chamber following the defeat were so loud (from House Democrats) they could be heard from the Senate chamber.”AJC’s “The Jolt”
That’s OK. We’ve heard it before. But supporters like me feel it’s our moral obligation to help the half-million Georgia students forced to attend schools that receive a grade of D or F. None of us, and none of those voting against this bill, would want their kids or grandkids to be forced to attend schools with such poor performance. I won’t relitigate the case at this time, but the evidence and the voters are on our side. We will be back again next year to build upon the success we had this year. Georgia will pass a Promise Scholarship Bill. Count on it.