BRIEF: School Choice in the States, June 2019
Need a record of June 2019’s state school choice happenings? Our brief roundup has you covered
LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
An attorney for the state teachers’ associations (FEA) who successfully challenged Florida’s first voucher program in 2006 has indicated his intention to challenge the state’s newest voucher, the Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. In June, FEA attorney Ron Meyer told the Florida Phoenix, “there is going to be a (legal) challenge. It’s not going to be next week, but it’s going to be, I suspect, before school starts.”
The Illinois budget bill, SB 262, passed the state senate June 1 and was signed by Gov. J. B. Pritzker June 5. Pritzker’s proposed budget included an earlier phase out for the Invest in Kids tax-credit scholarship program, but the enacted budget kept its current funding level intact.
Louisiana’s budget bill, HB 105, was signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. It appropriated the same amount of funding for the Louisiana Scholarship Program—roughly $42 million—as last year. Edwards stated last month, however, that he wants to overhaul the voucher program with additional regulations.
LD 1227, which would allow parents to apply to the state’s commissioner of education to enroll in receiving schools as well as lifted other limitations on Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program, died in committee.
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Espinoza v. MT Dept of Revenue, a tax-credit scholarship case that was ruled unconstitutional by Montana’s Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked, “Does it violate the Religion Clauses or Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools?” This case provides an opportunity for the high court to more fully opine on its ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the Missouri case where the high court said it is “odious to the Constitution” to deny a religious entity participation in a generally available public benefit program just because it is a church or religious institution. However, the case specifically addressed the state providing rubber pellets for a playground; courts and legal scholars have been divided on whether that ruling can be applied more expansively to all public benefit programs – including educational choice programs.
The Ohio Senate’s budget includes expansions to the eligibility and funding of the state’s income-based voucher program. Currently, students are eligible if they are incoming, first-time students in grades K–5 from families with income no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The legislation would expand eligibility for the vouchers to all students entering grades K–12 beginning in 2020–21. The expansion would be funded with a $50 million increase and would provide thousands of additional children with vouchers each year.
The Nevada legislature passed and the Governor signed SB 551 a bill that repeals the ESA program and caps funding for the tax-credit scholarship program. The tax-credit scholarship program funding levels would remain at the current $20 million amount, but no new students would be allowed to enter the program.
The Appropriations Bill, HB 966, was vetoed by the Governor on June 28, 2019. If passed, it could significantly change the structure of the disability voucher and special needs education savings account (ESA) programs in North Carolina. As written, the ESA and voucher programs would be combined into one education savings account program. Both programs would continue to serve children with special needs. If passed, full-time students with special needs would be eligible to receive up to $9,000 a year for educational expenses that include tuition for private schools, textbooks, tutoring services, educational therapies and transportation. If a child has a specific primary or secondary disability at the time of applying: 1) autism; 2) hearing impairment; 3) moderate to severe intellectual or developmental disabilities; 4) multiple, permanent orthopedic impairments; or 5) visual impairment, they could be eligible to receive up to $17,000 a year for educational expenses. A three-fifths majority in both chambers is required to override a veto.
The Pennsylvania Senate passed HB 800, a bill that would have increased the total tax credits available for scholarships by $100 million and allow the total to grow by 10 percent annually. The bill previously passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives but was subsequently vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Afterward, the legislature passed and the Governor signed a law increasing the tax credits by $30 million as well as raising the income eligibility requirements so that more families will have access to the scholarships.
On June 24, Gov. Ricardo Roselló and new Secretary of Education Eligio Hernández Pérez unveiled the island’s newly-implemented voucher program, which passed as part of a 2018 education overhaul. Parents could begin applying for vouchers June 30 on the Puerto Rico Department of Education’s website.
The West Virginia State Senate passed a nearly universal ESA out of their chamber. The bill would have allowed for currently enrolled public school students with family income up to $150,000 a year to be eligible to receive an ESA. The bill ultimately did not receive a full vote in the House of Delegates.