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Monday May 25th, 2015 5:33AM

Ga. tax credit scholarships targeted by lawsuit

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) -- A scholarship program meant to help low-income families afford private education violates the Georgia Constitution by sending tax dollars to unregulated schools, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in Fulton County Superior Court.

The suit against the Georgia Department of Revenue and Commissioner Douglas J. MacGinnitie argues that private schools and scholarship providers managing the donations aren't subject to state authority and its restrictions on admissions or students' religious beliefs.

A spokesman for the department declined comment Thursday.

The program targeted by the suit allows individuals a tax credit of up to $1,000 for donating the amount toward nonprofit scholarship providers. Married couples can give up to $2,500. Providers pass donations on to private school students.

The four plaintiffs, including Lynn Huntley, the former president of advocacy group the Southern Education Foundation, said the program doesn't do enough to ensure scholarships go to low-income students or that private schools won't reject those students because of their religious beliefs.

"The (state) Constitution provides for the separation of church and state, and this law blurs that line," Huntley said.

Republican state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, a sponsor of the bill that created the program, said he's confident it will continue. A case against a similar program in Arizona was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

"The same argument has been made every single time, and it has lost every single time," Ehrhart said.

The system was created in 2008, giving individuals a tax credit of up to $1,000 and married couples up to $2,500 for donating the amount toward nonprofit scholarship providers. But it has been criticized for doing more to help current private school students instead of low-income families looking for help affording a private school education.

The tax credit program has previously been criticized for doing more to help children already enrolled in private schools than poor students who can't afford it and for letting donors steer scholarships toward specific recipients.
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