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The Georgia state flag flies.

(The Center Square) – Giving parents the ability to choose what school their children attend could save Georgia taxpayers money and generate billions of dollars in economic benefits, according to a new study.

Released this week by conservative think tank the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) in conjunction with National School Choice Week, the study said establishing a statewide education savings account program that serves 5% of the student population would provide at least $15.7 billion in long-term economic benefits.

An education savings account redirects money the state spends per student to parents to use at a private school of their choice.

GPFF's study conducted by Corey DeAngelis, director of school choice for the Reason Foundation, examined the long-term economic effects of education savings accounts on projected improvements in academic achievement, educational attainment and crime reduction.

"The norm in K-12 education is that institutions are guaranteed large portions of children's education dollars regardless of the wishes of individual families," GPPF analysts wrote. "This guarantee creates a special interest in protecting particular institutions by fighting against allowing families to take their children's education dollars elsewhere."

Georgia has two programs that let parents select their child's school, controlling how education funds are spent.

About 10% of K-12 students in Georgia are eligible for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program, which allows parents to transfer students with an Individualized Education Plan to another public school or private school of their choice.

The state also offers a tax credit scholarship program, available to about 2% of students in Georgia. The Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program allows taxpayers to redirect some of their state income tax to nonprofit student scholarship organizations for K-12 students to attend a private school of their parents' choice in exchange for a tax credit.

According to Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek, an increase in student achievement of one standard deviation is associated with a 13% increase in lifetime earnings. Looking at research on math or reading test scores in private school choice programs, DeAngelis found 10 out of the 17 experimental studies saw significant positive testing outcomes in students in the programs.

Based on 2021-22 school year enrollment projections, if 5% of the state's 1.7 million students had the school-choice option, it could lead to $1.7 billion in economic benefits for Georgia from the first year, the report stated. DeAngelis estimated each of the 88,360 students could earn an additional $19,761 if they worked for 46 years.

DeAngelis also looked at data from studies on educational attainment outcomes from school-choice programs, such as high school graduation, college enrollment, college persistence and college completion rates.

One study found attending a public charter school in Georgia increased the likelihood of high school graduation by 4 percentage points and increased the possibility of enrolling in college by 6 percentage points. Using the same enrollment numbers, DeAngelis estimated Georgia could see $1 billion in economic benefits from the first year of implementing the additional school-choice option.

"High school graduates produce economic benefits to society through higher productivity, additional tax revenues from higher earnings, and reductions in social costs associated with tax-funded healthcare, crime and welfare," the reports stated.

Georgia could save $13 million in the first year from crime reduction costs such as direct and indirect financial loss for victims, criminal justice expenses and employment barriers for felons, the report showed. Research showed the average price of a felony is $37,800 in 2020 dollars. Access to education savings accounts by 5% of the student population, could cut 353 felons in the first year, the study finds.

A recent Beck Research poll showed broad bipartisan support nationally for school choice. About 65% of parents of K-12 students support school choice, and K-12 parents also favored education savings accounts by 78%, the poll results showed.

State Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, has proposed legislation to create education savings accounts for 0.5% of the total public school population – or 8,500 students in Georgia. That number would increase by 0.5% each year and be capped at 5% or in 10 years.

Buzz Brockway, vice president of public policy at the Georgia Center for Opportunity, said education scholarship accounts could increase opportunities for low-income families.

"Our No. 1 priority should be giving parents as many options as possible for their child's education, particularly for our low-income and minority communities who lack the resources to change school environments without our help," Brockway said.

The Georgia Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for four years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.