BRIEF: School Choice in the States March 2014
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  • Apr 03 2014

BRIEF: School Choice in the States March 2014

Alabama – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

The Alabama House passed HB 558 that would amend the Alabama Accountability Act. The bill heads to the Senate for consideration. The bill would make the following changes:

  • Define individual donors as shareholders or partners of S corporations or Subchapter K entities, and eliminate the $7,500 cap on all individual contributions.
  • Scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) would be able to distribute scholarships first to students in “failing” schools and then to lower-income public school students who are not in a failing school by May 15. Current law requires that the SGOs wait until September 15 to distribute scholarships to low-income public students not transferring from a failing school.
  • Change the definition of a failing school. The change would likely eliminate a few public schools from the failing school list, thus making students in those schools ineligible for future participation in the refundable-credit program.
Alaska – Michael Chartier @mchart1
The current fate of SJR-9, which would place an amendment to the Blaine provision in the state’s constitution on the November ballot, is still up in the air. The resolution has been sent back to the Rules Committee where it waits until it is reintroduced on the Senate floor.

Arizona – Leslie Hiner @LeslieHiner

The Arizona Supreme Court declined to review a Court of Appeals’ ruling upholding the state’s education savings accounts (ESA) program. The high court’s decision essentially deemed the ESAs constitutional. Several legislative proposals are moving in the state to expand the ESA program further.

Colorado – Leslie Hiner @LeslieHiner

The Colorado Supreme Court announced it will review the constitutionality of the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program. The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in 2013 the program does not violate the state’s constitution, which led the ACLU, which is openly anti-school choice, to file an appeal to the state supreme court. There is no word on when a decision could be expected.

Florida – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

The House chamber passed an expansion to the Florida tax-credit scholarship that would expand the cap on contributions to scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) and allowed businesses to donate against their sales tax liability. The bill would also allow lower- to middle-income families to receive partial scholarships. Proponents of the bill projected the changes would have allowed thousands more students to participate in the program. Even though close to 60,000 students are receiving scholarships through Step Up For Students, Florida’s sole SGO, there is still a waiting list for families in need of options.

The bill’s chances were cut short when the Senate sponsor pulled the bill because Senate and House leadership vehemently disagreed over adding state testing requirements. The House wanted to keep the original accountability language in the bill—requiring students take a nationally norm-referenced test—but Senate leadership demanded that private schools participating in the program should be required to take state tests.

The legislation would have been dead this session but for Rep. Erik Fresen, who added the Florida tax-credit scholarship expansion language to an education savings account bill for students with special needs. The combined legislation passed the Florida House Education Appropriations Subcommittee and will likely be up for a House floor vote in early April.

Indiana – Robert Enlow @RobertEnlow

A new voucher program was created this legislative session allowing parents of up to 1,500 children to choose a publicly or privately run pre-kindergarten school. Also, lawmakers clarified language in a portion of the state’s existing voucher program to better serve K-12 students with special needs whose parents want to choose a private school.

Iowa – Michael Chartier @mchart1

ESA legislation in Iowa did not make it through the “funnel” process there. This requires that all legislation be moving toward crossover to the other chamber by a certain date. The ESA bill made it out of the Appropriations Subcommittee but was not taken up by the full committee.

Kansas – Michael Chartier @mchart1

Both the ESA and the tax-credit scholarship bills are stalled in the legislative process. There is a bill in the legislature to raise the Base State Aid[KB2] in conjunction with a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling. That legislation does not contain any school choice-related language.

Louisiana – Leslie Hiner @LeslieHiner

Legislation that would give low-income students access to more school choice funding passed the state’s House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would allow students participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program to be automatically eligible for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which could potentially give their parents greater purchasing power.

Mississippi – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

On March 12, the Senate passed HB 765, the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act. The conference report on the ESA bill was filed in late March and contains a three-year repealer clause, making this a pilot program. The House voted down the ESA bill April 2 by a vote of 57-63. To see the evolution of the bill to date, visit State Programs and Government Relations Director Stephanie Linn’s markup here.

New York – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

In 2012, the New York Senate passed tax-credit scholarship legislation, the Education Investment Tax Credit, by a vote of 55 to 4. The Assembly’s companion bill had more than 100 co-sponsors. Although the measure had prominent support, including from some unlikely sources, this year New York’s budget did not include funding for the program, eliminating the possibility that the tax-credit scholarship program will become law.

Rhode Island – Michael Chartier @mchart1

A “sliding-scale” voucher bill available to families earning up to 300 percent of the income needed to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch is still pending in committee. The bill faces a deadline of June 23, when the state’s legislative session ends.

Tennessee – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

The House Finance Subcommittee passed a failing-school voucher bill for students attending schools with academic performance in the bottom 10 percent of the state. The bill does not include income restrictions for students, although most eligible students in this bill would be from lower-income households. The bill sponsor has been taken off notice in the House Finance Committee with the stated intention to take up the bill later this month.

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee followed suit by passing a companion bill. The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Mark Norris (R), offered an amendment that would allow the program to give first preference to students attending schools in the bottom 5 percent academically and then open up eligibility for low-income students not in failing schools but who are in public schools within counties that contain failing schools. That amendment passed. Notably, the bill passed the committee 8-1 with bipartisan support. The Senate Finance committee will consider the bill in early April.

Vermont –
 Leslie Hiner @LeslieHiner

An effort is underway in Vermont to dramatically cut the number of school districts statewide. The move essentially would render the state’s town tuitioning voucher program meaningless (for it to take effect a district must not house any public schools). Also, lawmakers are attempting to put a moratorium on “flipping” schools—in recent years, two public schools used the state’s voucher program to convert to private status amid concerns over state and federal overregulation.

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