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YARBROUGH: I guess God is on the side of private schools

Well, it looks like I am another theological pickle.

I have stated on several occasions that I don’t think our state is in financial condition to be giving tax breaks to parents who want to send their kids to private schools.

Now, I find out that God thinks the program is the Bee’s Knees. (God didn’t say that — I don’t think God talks that way — but a lawyer has intimated such and not even God will contradict a lawyer. Lawyers will sue anything that moves, including God.)

It’s not bad enough that my sorry soul is beyond saving for blowing most of the Ten Commandments. Now, I am on the wrong theological side of an education issue in Georgia.

Atlanta newspaper reporters James Salzer and Nancy Badertscher did a bang-up job recently of analyzing House Bill 325, Rep. Earl Ehrhart’s bill, which casts a shroud of secrecy over how public money is spent for student scholarship organizations, or SSO’s.

Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, is the unpaid CEO of the Georgia Christian Schools Scholarship Fund and the organization’s attorney, Jonathan Crumly Sr. reported in a letter to supporters in March that he helped draft the bill. That’s like the fellow who kissed the goat — I don’t think I’d have told that. Isn’t that what we hire legislators to do?

Crumly estimated in his letter that the HB 325 caps tax credits at $62.5 million in 2011 and by 2013 could be as high as $100 million, twice last’s year’s amount. Why not? The state of Georgia is flush with money.

Crumly says that thanks to HB 325, “God has given all Georgians an opportunity to render unto Him what is Caesars.” (God might also want to render unto Crumly’s sentence an apostrophe, too.)

I knew Earl Ehrhart was influential, but I didn’t know he was that influential. I didn’t realize tax breaks for private schools scholarships were so high on God’s To-Do list. I had assumed God had more pressing problems in this world — like hunger, war and women preachers.

I am going to consult with Dr. Gil Watson, the World’s Greatest Preacher, but I have a feeling he is going to tell me that if God saw more of us attending church regularly and rendering some of Caesar’s largesse in the offering plates to help those in need and would emphasize prayer in our homes instead of worrying about prayer in our schools, we wouldn’t have legislators and lawyers promoting $100 million tax breaks to benefit the coffers of private schools in one of the worst financial periods in our state’s history. Can I get an Amen?

Ehrhart and other “school choice” advocates claim that the scholarships actually save us money. His reasoning: If the state spends $7,500 per year per pupil and the average private school scholarship is $4,500, taxpayers are saved $3,000.

Steve Suitts, vice president of the Southern Education Foundation, told Salzer and Bardertscher that isn’t necessarily so. Above and beyond the scholarship money are administrative costs, promotional costs and the issue of parents gaming the system by putting their kids in public schools so they will be eligible for the private school scholarships, meaning the $7,500 cost wasn’t there in the first place. But we are talking a moot point here because HB 325 clouds the amount of information available to the public and my favorite quote machine, Rep. Ehrhart, says that those who criticize the program are “crazy extremists.”

According to Salzer and Badertscher’s investigation, Forsyth County schools had 48 such students coming from private schools to enroll in 2008-09; 72 in 2009-10 and 81 in the current school year. The director of information in the Barrow County school system, Ken Greene, reported his system is “continuing to see students enrolling solely for purposes of qualifying for the scholarship.” I’m going out on a limb here, but I’ll bet you a couple of Caesar’s aureuses that God thinks that is dishonest and has a different take on who may be the “crazy extremists.”

In the meantime, I suspect that in the next session our theologians-cum-legislators will say that God wants them to approve private vouchers, too, and that He won’t mind one whit if they stick Caesar’s public school teachers with more furlough days and less take-home pay. If I oppose them, they will likely ask God to make me spend all eternity in Detroit, which is worse than Hell.

Being a crazy extremist is hazardous work. Can I get an Amen?

Email columnist Dick Yarbrough at yarb2400@bellsouth.net. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/dickyarbrough.