BRIEF: School Choice in the States, January 2017
LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
SB 1431, a bill that would expand the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts to near-universal eligibility, was introduced to the Arizona legislature last month. The bill was referred to both the Senate Education Committee and the Rules Committee.
HB 1222, a bill that would create a tax credit-funded education savings account program, was introduced to the Arkansas legislature. The bill was assigned to the House Education Committee. Learn more about this potential program here.
Florida’s Supreme Court declined to review the case of McCall v. Scott, effectively dismissing the case on Jan. 18. This lawsuit was brought by Florida’s teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association, against the interests of almost 100,000 children who are currently receiving scholarships from that state’s tax-credit scholarship program. The Supreme Court’s action allows the lower court’s decision to prevail; that decision held that the Florida Education Association does not have standing to bring this lawsuit. Where a plaintiff can show no injury, the plaintiff generally does not have the right to sue.
Georgia’s Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gaddy v. Georgia Department of Revenue on Jan. 23 in Atlanta. Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program enacted eight years ago, which is currently providing scholarships to almost 13,000 children in Georgia to attend the private school of their parent’s choice, is under assault. Plaintiffs who brought this case, Southern Legal Foundation supporters, allege that public dollars cannot be used to support a privately funded scholarship program where children use the money to attend private religious schools and donors receive state tax credits. Plaintiffs’ legal position is in opposition to the landmark decision of the United State Supreme Court in ACSTO v. Winn, where the High Court upheld a similar tax-credit scholarship program in Arizona.
Two education savings account (ESA) bills and one school voucher expansion bill were put forth in Indiana. SB 534 would create ESAs for students with special needs. HB 1591 would create a universal ESA for public school students. HB 1590 would remove the income guidelines for the state’s voucher program, making it a universal voucher program. SB 534 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. HB 1590 and 1591 have both been referred to the House Committee on Education.
SF 256, a bill that would create a means-tested tax-credit scholarship program, was introduced then referred to the Senate Education Committee, passed out of the House Education Committee and has been referred to the K–12 Finance Committee.
SB 32, a bill that would create a tax credit-funded education savings account program, was introduced to the Missouri legislature. The bill was referred to the Government Reform Committee. On Feb. 1, the bill passed the Senate Government Reform Committee with a 5-2 vote.
Montana’s Eleventh Judicial District Court in Flathead County heard arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue on Jan. 25 in Kalispell. After the state legislature enacted a tax-credit scholarship program, the administration’s Department of Revenue imposed a rule that religious schools could not participate. Several parents represented by the Institute for Justice public interest law firm objected to this rule and filed a lawsuit. Contrary to the ruling of the administration, the scholarship program enacted by the legislature includes religious schools as a choice for parents. The action of the administration was arbitrary and beyond its authority. Only the legislature has the authority to make and amend laws. It is anticipated that any ruling of this court will be appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.
Three educational choice bills have been filed in Nebraska; LB 295, a means-tested tax-credit scholarship bill; LB 118, a parent-funded education savings account; and LB 608, a traditional school voucher bill aimed at children in “failing” schools. LB 295 and LB 118 were both referred to the Revenue Committee, while LB 608 was referred to the Education Committee.
Nevada’s lower courts in Lopez v. Schwartz and Duncan v. State reaffirmed the ruling of the Nevada Supreme Court that the state’s Education Savings Account legislation is constitutional; only one section of the bill providing funding for the program was struck down for lack of an appropriation. Learn more about these cases here.
SB 193, a bill that would create a nearly universal education savings account (ESA) program, was introduced to the New Hampshire legislature. It is currently in the Senate Education Committee. HB 647, a bill that would create an ESA for students with special needs, was also introduced. It currently is in the House Education Committee.
HB 1382, a bill that would create a nearly universal education savings account program, was introduced in the North Dakota. The House Education Committee heard testimony on Jan. 31. EdChoice Director of State Engagement Ed Failor delivered testimony on the history of and the empirical evidence on school choice. Lueken also delivered testimony on the fiscal effects of the bill.
Oklahoma Sen. Kyle Loveless said in January:
“This session, I am proposing legislation that allows qualified families to move their child from a public school and take up to 75 percent of the student’s funding with them. This funding could then be used to help offset the cost of a private school, tutors, homeschool supplies or other specified educational expenses — all while allowing the local district to retain 25 percent of the funds for a student they no longer provide services to.”
A bill that would create a completely universal education savings account, SB 437, was introduced by Oregon Sen. Ted Ferrioli. It has been referred to both the Education and Ways and Means Committees. No hearing date has been scheduled.
S 241—a bill that would expand the state’s Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children from $10 million to $25 million—was introduced to the South Carolina legislature. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.
A school voucher bill for kids in “failing” schools, SB 161, was introduced in Tennessee. Only districts that have 30 schools in the bottom 5 percent of schools would be eligible. It would set a cap of 20,000 vouchers overall for the state. It has not yet been signed to a committee.
SB 3 was introduced to the Texas legislature on Jan. 30. This bill would create the state’s first educational choice programs: a nearly universal education savings account and a means-tested tax-credit scholarship. The bill has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
IN OTHER EDCHOICE NEWS
EdChoice released the 2017 edition of its flagship policymaker handbook The ABCs of School Choice during National School Choice Week. Watch a demo of its features and order your copy on our website here.
EdChoice released Exploring Texas’s Private Education Sector, a new EdChoice Brief that details the results of our survey of Texas private schools, including schools’ awareness of ESAs and tax-credit scholarships. Listen to EdChoice Director of State Research and Policy Analysis and author of the report Drew Catt explain its findings here.
EdChoice Vice President of Programs Leslie Hiner presented findings on the constitutionality of school choice and related issues as part of an EdChoice Research Symposium at the 5th Annual International School Choice and Reform Conference, which this year was part of the 15th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Education. Both conferences bring together scholars from around the world to present research and share their knowledge and perspectives on school choice. As part of that same EdChoice Symposium, Catt presented on current data trends and comparisons of U.S. programs. EdChoice Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Marty Lueken presented findings from his Tax-Credit Scholarship Audit. And EdChoice Senior Fellow Ben Scafidi presented findings on the fiscal effects of school choice programs and increases of students and staff in U.S. public school districts. In a separate session, Catt presented findings from The Private School Landscape.
Hiner hosted ChoiceMediaTV’s Story of the Day on Friday the 13th of January. She objected to the federal Department of Education focusing its priorities more on its own system rather than our children and their academic needs.
Hiner was also invited by Nevada State Treasurer Dan Schwartz to attend Gov. Sandoval’s State of the State address in Carson City. Gov. Sandoval stated that he would keep his promise to include funding for Education Savings Accounts in his budget and would be a strong advocate for fully funding this program. She said it was an honor to attend and witness this historic moment for the children and families of Nevada.
On January 26, Hiner spoke at Oklahoma’s National School Choice Week event at the Oklahoma City Community College. Lead planning partner, the Scissortail Foundation and its Executive Director Robert Ruiz, held a successful event drawing more than 500 parents, students, legislators and community leaders.
Hiner also attended the Federalist Society Western Lawyers Conference at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. Friend of EdChoice and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick spoke eloquently on the value of state constitutions. Also presenting was David Cortman of the Alliance Defense Fund, lead counsel in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Pauley, currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case could have far-reaching implications for school choice, yet we have strong support and experience on our side in David and his organization, the Alliance Defense Fund.
Hiner’s positions on religious school participation in school choice programs, charter school accountability and the main benefactors of school choice were highlighted, along with comments on the same issues by Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute, in a white paper created by the Center for Urban Renewal and Education in conjunction with their event discussing the nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education.