BRIEF: School Choice in the States, February 2019
Need a record of February 2019’s state school choice happenings? Our brief roundup has you covered
LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
The Arizona Senate Finance Committee passed SB 1395, a bill that would improve the administration of the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program. The bill clarifies eligibility for students living within the attendance boundary of a low-performing district school, clarifies that students are eligible to receive an ESA to enroll in kindergarten until the age of 7 and clarifies the categories of eligible expenditures, including workbooks, flashcards, reading books, manipulatives and tuition and fees at career and technical education schools.
SB 1485 has been amended to reduce the “escalator” in Arizona’s Low-Income Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program that automatically increases the total tax credit cap by 25 percent each year when credits claimed are at least 90 percent of the total cap. The bill would reduce the escalator to 15 percent in 2020–21, 10 percent in 2021–22, 5 percent in 2022–23 and the greater of 2 percent or inflation in every subsequent year.
HB 1112, which would create an education savings account (ESA) for students who have been affected by a “safety incident” occurring at a public school, was postponed indefinitely in Colorado’s House Committee on State, Veterans & Military Affairs. The same committee took the same action for HB 1151, which would have created an ESA-like voucher for students with special needs.
On February 20, the Connecticut Parents Union—a parent organization founded by current president Gwendolyn Samuel to advocate for the educational rights of children in Connecticut—sued the state of Connecticut, alleging that racial quotas in interdistrict magnet schools are unconstitutional. A prior court ruling led to racial quotas in Hartford, but the legislature expanded quotas statewide. As a result, 25 percent of seats in all interdistrict magnet schools are reserved for white and Asian students. In the event less than 25 percent of seats are claimed by white and Asian students, black and Hispanic students are forbidden from filling those seats.
The tyranny of this hard racial quota is undisputed. In New Haven, a magnet school named for Cortlandt Creed, the first Black graduate of Yale Medical School, was forced to close for enrolling too few white and Asian students, even though there were too few white and Asian student applicants to meet the strictly arbitrary racial quota. By enrolling 91 percent black and Hispanic students, the Cortlandt Creed school faced oppressively unsustainable financial sanctions. Pacific Legal Foundation is representing the plaintiffs. Connecticut Parents Union v. Wentzell, U.S. District Court of Connecticut, Case 3:19-cv-00247.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program—which is the only private school choice program authorized by the United States Congress—is up for reauthorization this year. S. 213 would reauthorize the program through 2024. Democratic presidential candidate and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker joined the bill as a cosponsor.
State Sen. Manny Diaz proposed SB 1410, a bill that would expand Florida’s Hope Scholarships for bullied students to students who are already enrolled in a private school and would modify the verification process to empower parents instead of district officials.
Additionally, legislators have introduced SPB 7070, an omnibus education bill that would—among other things—create the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, a state-funded scholarship for low-income students and foster children.
The Georgia Senate Finance Committee passed SB 173, a bill that would create an education savings account program available to all students switching out of a public school as well as low-income students, students with special needs, students in or adopted from foster care, children of active-duty military personnel and students who were the victims of bullying. A companion bill, HB 301 has been introduced in the Georgia House.
Illinois HB 3540 was introduced, read and referred to the House Rules Committee. If passed, it would affect the state’s new Invest in Kids Program by banning religious schools from participating. It would also bar participating schools from discriminating against students based on socioeconomic factors in their admissions process.
Also in the Illinois House of Representatives, HB 2753 proposes an increase to the state’s individual Tax Credit for Educational Expenses. The proposed increase would raise the credit from $500 to $1,500 and also broaden the list of non-tuition expenses that qualify for the credit. The bill has been read once and is currently assigned to the House Revenue & Finance Committee.
SF 372, a universal education savings account, was introduced and referred to the Senate Education Subcommittee. It passed out of the subcommittee on February 28, and is now awaiting a hearing before the full Senate Education Committee.
Kansas legislators have introduced SB 2150, a bill that would provide state-funded scholarships to students who have been victims of bullying.
Kentucky legislators have introduced HB 205 and SB 118, companion bills that would create a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students, students with special needs and children in foster care.
Legislators in Minnesota introduced SF 1872 and HF 1894, companion bills that would create a tax-credit scholarship program for children from low-income families and students with special needs.
SB 2165—a bill that would have created an opportunity scholarship program, a voucher, for low-income children or children with disabilities in consistently low-performing schools to attend non-residentially assigned public schools or private schools—died in committee on February 5, 2019. The bill, if passed, would have initially targeted low-income children with the ability to expand the program to children of middle-income families over time with a cap of $25 million in the 2021–22 school year.
SB 2173 died in committee on February 27, 2019. It proposed a tax credit program for low- and middle-income children and children with disabilities, through corporate donations capped at $300,000 per business annually. The legislation would have allowed for the creation of scholarship organizations that would provide scholarships to children to attend schools of choice. The program would have also allowed for educational improvement organizations, which could have provided grants for innovative educational programs to district schools.
SB 2093, a bill that would have created a statewide universal education savings account (ESA), died in committee on February 5, 2019. The bill proposed 90 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding to follow the student to be used on a wide variety of educational expenses, including tuition at nonpublic schools, tutoring and educational therapies or services.
HB 634 and SB 2579 died in committee on February 25, 2019 and February 27, 2019 respectively. The bills would have created a statewide tax-credit scholarship program. The scholarship could be used to be for school supplies, textbooks, tuition for private schools, uniforms, educational software, tutoring services and online educational services.
On February 14, 2019, the Senate passed SB 2675, which extends the ESA program until 2024. The program allows students with special needs to receive a portion of their public funding in a government authorized savings account with multiple uses. In 2019, there were 356 students participating in the program. An amendment to allow unused ESA funds to be transferred to a student’s home school district if he or she re-enrolls in public school passed as well. The bill now moves to the House for consideration. Without passage, the ESA is set to expire in 2020.
The Missouri Senate Ways & Means Committee passed SB 160, a bill that would create the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, a tax credit-funded education savings account program open to all school-aged students in Missouri from towns with a population greater than 30,000 in the case of the latter two bills. A companion bill, HB 478, was passed by the Missouri House Education Committee and Administrative Oversight Committee.
AB 218, an act that would fund the Nevada education savings account program, was introduced and referred to the House Education Committee. It is currently waiting a hearing.
HB 632 was introduced on January 16, 2019. It is a direct attempt to repeal the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. This program allows individuals and businesses subject to New Hampshire’s interest and dividends tax to receive a tax credit up to 85 percent for donations to scholarship organizations. In the 2018–19 year, the average value of all non-homeschooling scholarships could not exceed $2,762 except for children with special needs whose scholarships could not be less than $4,834. This program allowed 413 students greater choice in the state of New Hampshire for the 2019 school year. On February 12, 2019 the first hearing on this bill occurred. Parents, students, administrators and detractors of the program all showed up to testify. The turnout was so significant that the hearing had to be continued until March 5, 2019.
SB 318, if passed, could significantly change the nature of the tax-credit scholarship program in New Hampshire by creating a Public School Grant Program. The tax-credit scholarship program provides tax incentives to support nonprofit organizations that grant scholarships to children from households where family income is less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level. The scholarships can be used on a wide variety of educational expenses. This bill would divert funds from the scholarship program for low-income children to be used for afterschool services by families whose children are already attending publicly funded schools. This bill was referred to Ways and Means in late January. There is no committee hearing date set yet.
HB 174 was filed on February 26, 2019. If passed, it would provide a tax credit for taxpayers who operate a home school. The credit would be equal to 50 percent of the expenses incurred for establishing and operating a homeschool, but could not exceed the amount of the opportunity scholarship available to the taxpayer or the amount of tax imposed on the individual in a taxable year less the sum of all allowable credits.
HB 1321, which would create an individual tax credit for parents who pay for private school tuition or who homeschool their children, failed to pass in a vote of the North Dakota House of Representatives. The same legislative body, however, passed a bill (HB 1464) that provides for a legislative management study of the feasibility of developing a school choice program in North Dakota.
The Oklahoma Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB 407, a bill that would expand the tax-credit scholarship program from $3.5 million to $10 million (a previous version would have expanded the credits to $40 million). Likewise, the Oklahoma House Appropriations & Budget Committee passed HB 2621, a bill that would expand the tax-credit scholarship program from to $60 million.
The Oklahoma House Appropriations & Budget Committee also passed HB 1160, a bill that would create a personal-use tax credit of up to $2,500 for a variety of educational purposes, including private school tuition (preschool through 12th grade), tutoring, online instruction, curricula, textbooks and workbooks, educational software, etc.
Pennsylvania legislators introduced SB 299, a bill that would increase the tax credit cap for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program by 25 percent annually whenever at least 90 percent of available tax credits were claimed in the previous year.
Rhode Island introduced HB 5273, which would increase the amount of tax credits for the state’s Tax Credits for Contributions to Scholarship Organizations program from $1.5 million to $5 million. The bill also includes an automatic escalator provision should the new cap be exceeded. It is currently in the House Finance Committee.
There are currently two bills in the state of South Carolina—one in the House and one the Senate that would establish an education savings account (ESA) program in the state for children who are diagnosed with special needs or who live in low-income households. HB 3681 currently has 61 sponsors and was referred to Ways & Means. S 556 has been referred to the Education Committee. If either bill is passed, children who receive an ESA, could use the funds for a wide variety of purposes, including tuition and fees at participating schools, textbooks, tutoring, curriculum or instructional materials, computer hardware or other technology, fees for transportation (not to exceed $750 annually) and tuition at post-secondary institutions.
Utah introduced SB 177, titled the Scholarships for Special Needs Students Program. It creates a tax-credit scholarship program for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and who do not already receive the state’s voucher for students with special needs, the Carson Smith Scholarship Program. The bill allocates $12 million in tax credits, which are nonrefundable but worth 100 percent of donations to scholarship-granting organizations and includes an automatic escalator provision. The Utah Senate’s Revenue and Taxation Committee reported the bill out favorably, and it is due for its second reading in that chamber.
The Virginia Senate passed two bills that would advance educational choice. The first bill, SB 1015, would expand eligibility for the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program to include children enrolled in or attending nonpublic prekindergarten programs. The second bill, SB 1365, would increase the size of tax-credit scholarships available for low- and middle-income students with disabilities from 100 percent to 300 percent of the state’s per-pupil expenditure.
SB 451, which included a means-tested special needs education savings account program, was permanently tabled on the House floor. No further action can be taken up on the bill.