Preserving Scholarship Organization Autonomy

Over at the EdChoice Blog today, Robert Enlow of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation, and I argue that the government should not force nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs) to check their values at the door as a precondition of participating in scholarship tax credit programs, as some groups have recently proposed in Georgia. In addition to violating core American principles, such as freedom of conscience, the proposed regulation would also reduce SGO effectiveness and jeopardize the financial support for tax-credit scholarships, which is certainly not in the best interest of the children who rely on them. The policy is not only unwise, it is also unnecessary:

As it happens, in nearly every state with tax-credit scholarships, at least one of the largest SGOs makes scholarships available to all or gives priority to lower-income students, including Arizona School Choice TrustGeorgia GOALStep Up for Students in Florida, the Network for Educational Opportunity in New Hampshire, and the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Pennsylvania, among others. This is a noble and popular approach, but it is far from the only legitimate kind.

There are also dozens of scholarship-granting organizations with varied, but specific institutional missions.

Some SGOs focus on students with special needs. Others only serve students attending Montessori schools, Waldorf academies, or schools that meet certain academic standards. Some religiously affiliated SGOs issue scholarship only to students attending Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim schools. Others encourage recipients to perform community service.

Clearly, there is a diverse array of SGO options serving equally diverse communities. But regulations like the one that was proposed in Georgia would alienate all mission-driven SGOs like these from tax-credit scholarship programs and ultimately force them out of business. That is certainly not in the best interest of the children using their services, much less the growing movement of families in search of more schooling options.

In short, private organizations should have the right to determine their own mission, and donors should have the freedom to choose to support the organizations that align with their values. Ultimately, preserving the autonomy of SGOs is in the best interest of the children they serve.