… but Arete does it the right way in Georgia

Amid my overly academic analysis of the Southern Education Report report on Georgia’s flawed Tax Credit Scholarship law, I failed to mention an important and highly relevant development on the ground there. The law may in fact be overly permissive and lack sufficient accountability, but at least one scholarship organization is doing things the right way. It is called the Arete Scholars Fund.

Arete targets scholarships to only low-income students and operates with genuine transparency and accountability. The organization was just created last year by two men, Atlanta Falcons CFO Greg Beadles and Arete executive director Derek Monjure, who are in this for all the right reasons. They have voluntarily limited full scholarships to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The average household income for their students is only 15 percent above poverty, and three-fifths of the students are minority and two-thirds are being raised by a single guardian.

At Arete, parents choose any school they want. Neither donors, schools nor Arete has a say in that decision. The organization also verifies household income every year, and its own books are audited and it discloses full data about its students and contributions.

I was remiss to tell this important story, because our own tax-credit scholarship organization, Step Up For Students in Florida, is a partner with Arete. So I didn’t want to appear to be tooting either their or our horns. But now that I am toot mode, I will also share that the report did single out Florida’s tax credit scholarship law as a model for Georgia to follow. That’s certainly a source of pride for those of us who have worked hard to bring the right balance of transparency and accountability, and here’s what the report said:

“The neighboring state of Florida offers an example of a tax-credit educational program that has evolved and improved over the last few years. As a public-private venture, it has begun to require more effective measures for public accountability and educational performance from all entities and all private schools that take tax-diverted funds to support student learning.”

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BY Jon East

Jon East is special projects director for Step Up For Students. Previously, he was a member of the editorial board and the Sunday commentary editor at the St. Petersburg Times, Florida’s largest daily newspaper, where he wrote about education issues for most of his 28 years at the paper. He was also a reporter and editor at the Evening Independent and Ocala Star-Banner. He earned a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.