Monday, August 27, 2012
School Choice Advocate
Turning the Page Toward Broader School Choice
States can’t get enough of a good thing. After a year in which eight school choice programs were created and 11 were expanded, some thought 2012 might be an off-year for our cause. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice certainly didn’t subscribe to that belief, nor did advocates, parents, lawmakers, and governors in eight states—well, except for one governor. But, thankfully, his opposition didn’t matter in the end.
So far this year, school choice has experienced impressive, and noteworthy, gains. Six existing programs were expanded. Five programs were newly enacted. And three states joined the school choice “family”—the most new states ever in a given year.
Although this edition of “The School Choice Advocate” details school choice’s programmatic growth in those eight states, a few, in particular, are worth highlighting.
First, there’s Louisiana. The Bayou State has tested school choice on a small scale since 2008. Recognizing the need to “go big or go home,” Gov. Bobby Jindal, Superintendent John White, and legislative leaders dramatically expanded the state’s pilot voucher program for low-income students attending failing public schools in New Orleans. Now, half of Louisiana’s student population is scholarship-eligible.
Next up, Arizona. Last year, its policymakers created the nation’s first education savings account (ESA) program. Witnessing the benefits ESAs provided students with special needs, lawmakers and Gov. Jan Brewer doubled the program’s eligibility pool to include students in failing schools and school districts, youth in foster care, and, uniquely, children of active military personnel.
Then there are the new kids in town: Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Virginia. Mississippi lawmakers and Gov. Phil Bryant enacted the nation’s only scholarship program for children with dyslexia— no doubt a small plan, but one that might allow some children to show state leaders the power of school choice.
In Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell and a dedicated group of legislators made a 20-year effort to create school choice come to fruition. Coincidentally, that work started when then-delegate McDonnell requested the legislature study choice scholarships in the early ’90s.
And, finally, New Hampshire lawmakers courageously acted to override Gov. John Lynch’s veto of a tax-credit scholarship program by 16-7 in the Senate and 236-108 in the House—a heartfelt victory for many after New Hampshire failed to enact school choice in 2006 by just one vote.
Of course, none of those victories would have been possible without voices outside the legislature. So to school choice supporters in the states not featured in this publication, speak up. Your time will come. And when you win, don’t stop.