BRIEF: School Choice in the States, March 2019
Need a record of March 2019’s state school choice happenings? Our brief roundup has you covered
LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
Indiana Rep. Jim Banks introduced the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2019 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill would allow children of active-duty military members to use an education savings account (ESA) for tuition and a variety of educational expenses, up to $6,000 per year.
The Arkansas Senate filed and passed SB 539, the Arkansas Tax Credit Scholarship Act. The bill creates the state’s first tax-credit scholarship program, which would be the state’s second school choice program after its Succeed Scholarship voucher.
Eligible students would not be able to combine this scholarship with the voucher. Eligible students include those from families earning up to 150 percent of the free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program income limits, those who have an IEP or are eligible to participate in the Succeed Scholarship program, children of active-duty military or of a parent who was killed in the line of duty, or students in foster care. The program also has a prior public schooling requirement.
The scholarship would be funded via dollar-for-dollar tax credits, with up to $3 million worth of credits available. The bill moved to the Arkansas House of Representatives the last week of March and was referred to the House Education Committee.
The Connecticut Parents Union, its founder Gwen Samuel and the Pacific Legal Foundation scored a victory in Connecticut when the federal district court judge in Robinson v. Wentzell ruled against the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings in this case where racial quotas in magnet schools are being challenged. Look for more updates on this case later this year.
The Florida Senate Education Committee passed SB 7070, a bill that would, among other things, create a school voucher program for low-income students. Up to 15,000 vouchers would be available in the first year. The bill has also received approval from the Florida Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.
Meanwhile, the Florida House Education and Appropriations Committees passed HB 7075, a bill that would create a school voucher program for low- and middle-income students with a cap of about 28,000 students in the first year.
Legislation to create an expansive education savings account program was not acted upon before the legislative deadline. Although similar language was added to another bill, that bill was also tabled.
Idaho lawmakers introduced HB 253, the Education Savings Account Act. The bill would create the state’s first school choice program in the form of gradually expanding ESAs. The program would first be open to students entering kindergarten and students with special needs. The following year, students from public schools and students whose family income does not exceed FRL income limits would become eligible. The program would then expand to private school students in various grades, and by the seventh year all Idaho students would be eligible. The bill was referred to the House Education Committee.
The Idaho House of Representatives also introduced HB 273, the Guided Education Management Act. The bill would create the state’s first tax-credit scholarship program, with students in Idaho public schools eligible to receive scholarships to attend private schools. Students must also have a family income at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, be a child with a disability or have a parent who is either an active duty-military member or who was killed in the line of duty. Three scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs) would be eligible to distribute scholarships, worth no more than the state’s average per-pupil funding allocation plus weighted amounts the state would have provided to a public school for a particular student. Scholarships would be funded by tax credits worth 50 percent of donations, with up to $15 million of tax credits available. The bill was referred to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
Lawmakers filed a resolution to urge Illinois Gov. Jay Pritzker to allow the Invest in Kids tax-credit scholarship program to be in full effect for the five years allocated by statute.
The Iowa Senate Education Committee released SF 547, which would create an education savings account program for students with special needs. It is currently awaiting a subcommittee hearing.
Rep. Tedd Gassman introduced HF 663 which would create an education savings grant for students who attend a non-public school. It has been referred to the House Education Committee.
Sen. Jerry Behn introduced SF 372, a bill which would likewise create an education savings grant for students who attend a non-public school. It was passed out of the Education Committee and is currently awaiting a subcommittee hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Kentucky legislature failed to act on HB 134 and SB 36, bills that would have created a tax-credit scholarship program, before the legislative deadline.
In prefiling for the upcoming Regular Session, the Louisiana House of Representatives appropriated in a pair of bills $41.9 million for the Louisiana Scholarship Program—which represents a marginal increase from last year’s appropriation. The bills also forecast $9.2 million worth of tax credits to be claimed for the state’s Tuition Donation Credit Program.
Maryland passed its Fiscal Year 2020 budget bill, which includes a $5.5 million appropriation for the state’s BOOST voucher program. The program had been appropriated with $3 million more in funding last session, but is expected to receive rollover funds.
In a surprise move in Mississippi, lawmakers approved an additional $2 million in funding for the state’s education savings account program in the Department of Finance Administration conference report (SB 3049). The additional funding for the program appeared to shock some legislators with multiple attempts to reconsider the bill failing on March 28, 2019. The bill has passed both chambers and is headed to the governor, who has expressed support for the bill. The $2 million in funding for the ESA could provide approximately 300 new seats for the program and help Mississippi families who have been stuck on the waitlist.
Bills to create a tax-credit funded education savings account program (SB 160 and HB 478) and another (HB 33) to create a funding mechanism for Bryce’s Law, a tax-credit scholarship program that is currently on the books without funding, were not acted upon before the legislative deadline.
The Montana House of Representatives introduced HB 697, a bill that would revise the state’s individual income tax code to officially remove the state’s Tax Credits for Contributions to Student Scholarship Organizations program.
Tim Keller, at the Institute for Justice filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court in the Espinoza v. Montana Dept of Revenue case on March 12. Keller represents parents who are using tax-credit scholarships to send their children to private schools in northwest Montana. The question presented in the case: Does it violate the Religion Clauses or the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student-aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools?
Kendra Espinoza, Jeri Ellen Anderson and Jaime Schaefer—all Montana moms—sued when the Montana Department of Revenue enacted a rule for the tax-credit scholarship program that prohibited religious schools from participating in the program. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the department exceeded its authority, but agreed that religious schools could not participate and also held that the entire program is unconstitutional under Montana’s state constitution. The Court refused to even consider federal rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court which would have saved the program. EdChoice will file an amicus brief in this case in April.
The Nevada Assembly Committee on Education released AB 458, which would remove the automatic escalator clause from the Educational Choice Scholarship Program. It is currently awaiting a hearing.
Assemblyman Chris Edwards released AB 396, which would allow for students who are victims of bullying or cyber bullying to receive an education savings account. It is currently awaiting a committee hearing in the Education Committee.
Joint sponsors from both the Assembly and the Senate released AB 380, a bill that would allow victims of bullying or cyber bullying to receive an education savings account. It is currently awaiting a hearing in the Education Committee.
Joint sponsors from both the Senate and the Assembly released SB 404, a bill that would allow for a tax-credit scholarship to be utilized for career and technical education providers. It is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee
Sen. Scott Hammond introduced SB 349, a bill that would create a funding mechanism for the education savings account program. It is waiting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.
HB 632 was introduced on January 16. It was a direct attempt to repeal the tax-credit scholarship program in New Hampshire. This program allowed 413 students greater choice in the state of New Hampshire for the 2019 school year. On February 12, 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. The bill had its second hearing with another strong turnout from supporters of the program. On March 19, the bill was tabled.
SB 318, would have significantly changed the nature of the state’s tax-credit scholarship program 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. This bill would have diverted funds from the scholarship program for low-income children to be used for workforce development programs by families whose children are already attending publicly funded schools. This bill was referred to Ways and Means in late January and had hearings in March. On March 13, the Ways and Means recommended that this bill ought to pass with an amendment that would have effectively capped the tax-credit scholarship program around $2 million. On March 28, the bill was tabled.
HB 1464, a school choice study bill, failed to pass in a vote in the North Dakota Senate. The bill had previously passed the North Dakota House of Representatives.
The Oklahoma Senate passed SB 407, a bill that would expand the state’s tax-credit scholarship program from $3.5 million to $10 million. (A previous version would have expanded the credits to $40 million.) The Oklahoma House Appropriations and Budget Committee will now consider the bill.
Oregon introduced SB 953, which would create the state’s first school choice program in the form of an education savings account funded at 90 percent of the statewide average per-pupil funding amount. Eligible students must be in public school and have either a disability, be identified by the school district as needing additional services, be a ward of juvenile court or the Department of Human Services, or be income-eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program. The bill also stipulates an enrollment cap for ESA participation for each school district. It has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
There are currently two bills that would establish an Education Scholarship Account program for children with special needs or students of low-income households in the state of South Carolina: one in the House and one in the Senate. HB 3681 currently has 63 sponsors, including the Speaker of the House, and was referred to Ways and Means. SB 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.
The Utah House of Representatives passed SB 177, which would create a tax-credit scholarship for students with special needs. The bill has since been received in the Senate.
Gov. Jim Justice called for a special session on March 6 regarding education betterment. Topics can include a wide variety of educational improvements, including the possibility of education savings accounts.