My family’s experience with vouchers


We live in area blessed with two excellent school systems in Fayette and Coweta counties. I have enthusiastically advocated for them on these pages. However, my focus is quality education for Georgia’s children.

Some believe, that education is a competition between public, private, and homeschool and one can support only one of the three paths at the exclusion of the other two. I used to believe that as well. I was wrong. The simple fact is that different students react differently in various environments and some students may benefit more from a non public approach.

There is a general voucher bill in the Georgia Senate (SB 233) I will cover in a few weeks. But today I wanted to share my journey with vouchers.

In 2009, we had just passed our first Fayette County ESPLOST and our schools were financially vulnerable. I had the opportunity to meet Ga. Senator Eric Johnson (R – Savannah ) author of SB10 which provides vouchers for children with special educational needs and are subject to an individual education plan (IEP).

I met him at our PTC Starbucks as part of his campaign for governor. I explained that I thought his plan took money from public education to benefit fewer people. That year, my son Jackson was a kindergartener at PTC Elementary School and it turns out God has a sense of irony.

Thanks to his wonderful 1st grade teacher, my son was identified as having a learning disability and received an IEP. He has a processing disorder which he has overcome to be a successful student, but we were concerned as he was getting ready for Middle School and another Fayette County teacher told us about SB10 vouchers.

We found that Trinity Christian School had a different approach to students with learning disabilities called “skills” and decided to use a SB10 voucher to get our son the environment he needed. We found the amount of the voucher on the SB10 website and it was only for the amount Georgia gave Fayette County for our son. Each student has a different amount.

While I had reservations advocating for public education while I was choosing private school for my child, but that went away one fall day. I picked my son up from football practice and while driving home he said “You know, Dad, I’m not stupid, I can do this.” We never knew he thought that before.

The voucher did not cover all of the tuition, but the financial cost to our family was well worth it. Jackson is a successful college student in a small college in South Carolina.

I have seen some kids do great at Trinity as well as Landmark, Heritage, The Campus, the Foundry as well as others. Some kids have moved between more than one of these and some returned to public school. Many of these students had no voucher and their parents paid the cost.

My point is that if we are truly interested in the educational well being of our students, the answer must be public AND private AND homeschool as options and must be addressed as part of Georgia’s constitutional obligation to fund adequate basic education.

[Neil Sullivan is a finance/accounting executive and CPA. He has lived in Peachtree City over 20 years with his wife Jennifer, a Fayette County History teacher and son Jackson, a sophomore at Erskine College. He has been active in public school related issues in Fayette County, leading three E-SPLOST initiatives as chairman of Fayette Citizens for Children. He has appeared previously on these pages in letters to the editor.]


  1. Great letter Mr. Sullivan. You make some very good arguments to support school vouchers. It’s good SB10 exists for exceptional cases. However, I found Fayette County offers superior “special educational needs” support, once the Individual Education Plans (IEPs) are developed. We do receive federal resources to specifically provide for special educational needs. I believe it more beneficial for all concerned to concentrate their focus and efforts to support the public school systems in Georgia. If the public school systems fail, we as individuals failed it. I’m not much of a believer an individual has a “right” to an education, but I’m a strong supporter in education and an education that teaches us how to be productive in this world as well as how to work together to solve whatever problems exist. I hope to not miss your letter regarding SB 233.

    • Thanks Doug. Yes Fayette schools are regularly in the top 3 in GA for Special Education, The challenge as I see it is the push and pull between the gifted and the IEP. Its very hard, for teachers to balance the needs of 20 + students. That is one reason I am such a big class size advocate.

      I’m going to cover this more going forward as I got a number of IEP war stories both of my own and from other parents. Teachers must follow the IEP its the law. But I believe our teachers do their best in general. My wife teaches at Sandy Creek where the Bridges Program is based.

      More to come.

  2. Let’s start with the objective, which is better outcomes in educating our youth. Generally-speaking, students at charter schools and private schools do much better in math, reading / writing, civics – – the important stuff – – than their counterparts in government schools.

    We apparently are fortunate that PTC’s public schools get high marks (pun intended), and have avoided much of the indoctrination into partisan causes that plague other school districts. Elsewhere in Georgia and nationwide, however, government schools are failing and most parents have no real alternative for their kids.

    I’m in favor of giving parents the option to send their child to the best place for them to learn. That is enabled by having some level of school funding to be portable, following the child wherever his / her parents want them to be educated.

  3. The harsh reality is some public schools cannot be saved and need to be dismantled. The previous governor understood this fact (Deal’s opportunity school district), but fearmongering won out, sadly. If your public schools are good, you don’t need to worry about “funding”.

  4. A child’s educational attainments are typically most influenced by parental concern and involvement. Any school with strong parental support will have a significant advantage. I know that some charter schools require parental “volunteer” services as a condition of their child’s attendance, and this seems to have a positive influence on all involved (teachers, children, and parents).

    As long as the public schools are fully funded and my tax dollars are not allowed into the coffers of ANY religious school or organization, I’m fine with offering some diversion of public funds to private schools that meet stringent standards for education. However, parents need to have skin in the game with their own money so the public funds as purely supplemental.

    State sponsored charter schools are also a good option as they allow choice within the publicly funded educational system. And parents should be totally free to personally fund the education of their children in any reputable school, religious or otherwise.

    • Hi STF

      We definitely agree on parental involvement. However, I have found that can cut both ways as parent volunteers in the classroom can be more interested in their child’s success versus the greater whole.

      I don’t agree with you (obviously) as to who can and can’t participate in educating our children and who receives state funding. For some belief in the state/ government is a religion. I more care about results.

      In two weeks, I cover the interesting things about charter. Like anything there are pluses and minuses.

      • Thanks Neil. I don’t know a lot about charter schools, so I’ll be informed by your enlightenment.

        We’ll just have to disagree on public money breaking through Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation. Churches already have tremendous tax advantages, and, although some follow Jesus’ directives and use the money to help humankind, many use their funds to ram their beliefs down our throats and influence public policy to conform to their narrow interpretations of ancient texts. I’d prefer that they not use my money to advocate against the general welfare of all citizens.

        Just look about anywhere in the Middle East to see how a theocracy plays out in practice.

        • Fiction – you are entitled to your open disdain for anything religious, but you are not entitled to your own version on facts, such as Jefferson’s “wall of separation” and the First Amendment.

          In five of the thirteen colonies in the mid-1700s, the Anglican Church was the legally established religion. Jefferson, a deeply religious man, rejected the state (country) religion imposed by the British. He believed that religion was a very personal matter, one in which the government had no business getting involved in.

          The “wall of separation between church and state” appeared in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The “wall” Jefferson referred to was not to keep Judeo-Christian principles out of government, or to say that churches have no role in public life, (and certainly not to keep religion out of schools), but rather it was about keeping government out of establishing a religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

          More importantly, the text of the First Amendment restricts government only. There is no Constitutional (or even Jeffersonian) “wall of separation” against public funding of religious education.

          PS – we have almost 250 years as a representative democracy, and there’s no theocracy in sight.

          • HI Penny – It’s good to hear from you again.

            I agree with most of your take on history (Jefferson was a deist who denied the miracles of Jesus and much of the supernatural), but I come to a much different conclusion. I believe that giving public money to a religious organization is the same as the state establishing a religion by supporting it financially.

            And just an aside, Jefferson was coming to the defense of the Danbury Baptists who were being discriminated against. Can you imagine a current Baptist having the slightest concern about discriminating against anyone?

            I hope you are right about no theocracy in sight. I am not so sure with all of the Christian nationalistic rhetoric I hear.

          • Hi Penny – After the Alabama Supreme Court’s ridiculous decision on Tuesday, it is very clear that not only is a theocracy in sight, it is being pursued actively and successfully by religious zealots just as doctrinaire as any that you’ll find in Iran.

  5. Educational options abound in America and not one is trying to prevent parents from educating their children, by having this participate in public or private schools or deciding to homeschool. What taxpayers object to is have our tax dollars taken out of public education, given the fact that the State of Georgia has only fully funded public education in Georgia, 3 times, since 2008. Clearly, education (public, private, or homeschooling) is NOT a priority in Georgia and hasn’t been a priority for many years. I don’t have a problem with vouchers, IF, the State of Georgia mandates that public education in Georgia is fully funded. For the vast majority of parents, public education is our only option and Georgia’s best option.

    • Hi gp.

      Why shouldn’t the state tax dollar follow the student? What about the estimated 3,000 Fayette students who go to either private or homeschool. Today, they receive no state funding toward the State’s obligation to publicly fund adequate education?

  6. I’ve always thought it odd that we (as a society) think monopolies are bad because they restrict choice and competition; EXCEPT when the government runs the monopoly like they do with education.

    The Atlanta public schools cheating scandal when Beverly Hall ran them from a decade ago generated lots of headlines, but nothing was ever corrected for the actual benefit of the families in those schools districts – In the end the schools never improved as claimed.
    Worse – The families were stuck with 3 lousy choices:
    1. Leave their kids in schools that they now know are not educating their kids.
    2. Move to another school district (not easy for most families, especially in the short term).
    3. Pay for private school tuition on top of paying property taxes for a public school system they no longer get any use from. (It would be a nice option if those funds could follow the child to a school that the parents chose to send them to).

    Vouchers may not be perfect, but anything that puts some competition and creates choices gets my vote.