Rogers in a debate conducted Tuesday night said he would support a statewide voucher system for public school students and those comments have raised eyebrows from at least one public school education advocacy group.
Rogers’ comments came Tuesday night in a debate with challenger Brandon Beach, District 6 board member for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The debate, moderated by Atlanta Journal-Constitution political blogger Jim Galloway and former Republican gubernatorial candidate Karen Handel, was held in Milton at the Crooked Creek HOA Clubhouse and sponsored by the North Fulton & Friends Tea Party.
The exchange happened when both Rogers and Beach were asked about their stance on charter schools and school choice.
Rogers, a longtime supporter of charter schools, indicated he was in support of restoring the state’s ability to approve charter schools, despite the local boards of education denial.
Galloway followed up with Rogers by noting the senator has “spoken forcefully about parental choice and, if I extrapolate from what you’re saying, you’re saying that the state should be moving very quickly toward a voucher system.”
Galloway then asked Rogers “how quickly” should the state move toward that system and what the consequences would be if a move became a reality.
Rogers noted that move should have happened “yesterday.”
“And the consequences will be we’ll finally have a market-based system, where the best education schools in the system deliver a product to children and parents that they want, that they desire, that they will be involved (in) and not a system that says, ‘Because you live at 123 Elm Street you must go to this school over here’,” he said. “That’s craziness.”
Rogers went on to say the voucher system is part of the Republican Party platform and Republican governors in the states such as Louisiana, New Jersey, Indiana, Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin are all in support of vouchers.
Rogers’ statements were since met with criticism at the local level.
Cherokee County School Board member Mike Chapman, chair of Neighbors for A Better Cherokee, said Rogers’ comments were a clear indication of his agenda, which is to “dismantle public education and replace it with a privatized system.”
Chapman indicated there’s no concrete evidence that suggests providing vouchers would increase student performance.
He also said those who would benefit from vouchers are families who already pay for private education.
“Senator Rogers and his fellow legislators have stripped more than a billion dollars from public education in the state budget in recent years, and yet they refuse to take responsibility for these cuts (and they are indeed cuts),” he said.
When asked the next day about his comments, Rogers said he was “a little curious as to the ‘newsworthy’ nature of a statement I have made for over 10 years.”
The senator added he supports “every form of education.”
“I do not support any type of educational delivery system over the other,” he said. “I only wish that every type of educational delivery system is excellent.”
The majority leader also noted he is and always had been a supporter of vouchers and the state already has vouchers in place with the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship.
“The idea of sending students to a school based on their U.S. postal mailing address is an antiquated and damaging practice that puts the interests of the government ahead of the interests of the student,” he added. “We should put parents in charge of educational choices for children, and I support this 100 percent.”
The scholarship allows public school students to transfer to another school within their district or to use vouchers to attend a state-approved private school.
Rogers last year tried to expand the scholarship to include children of military families or are in foster care, but the change failed to pass the state senate.
Beach in an interview on Thursday said he would not support such a system and criticized Rogers for his stance.
“We have excellent public education,” he said, referring to schools in Senate District 21. “If Chip Rogers wants to send his children to private school, that’s his prerogative. But the taxpayers don’t need to pay for it.”
Beach added the state should replicate the success schools within Senate District 21 have seen, and said parental involvement is the key to quality education.