The School Choice Landscape Following the 2018 Election
Where the states stand after midterm gubernatorial, legislative races
After the recent mid-term election, we published our analysis of newly elected and re-elected governors and where they stand on the issue of private school choice. We also saw changes at the state legislative level that could have implications for educational choice.
What do the election results mean in states that have existing school choice programs in place? What potential effect might they have when it comes to enacting new programs? Now that all the races have officially been called, we break down the states to watch in 2019 and beyond.
Gov. Kay Ivey, who has long advocated for educational choice, was elected to her first full term after filling a vacancy in 2017. Alabama has an opportunity to expand its existing tax-credit scholarship program, which served more than 3,500 families last year.
Alaskans elected Mike Dunleavy as their next Governor. As a state senator, Dunleavy sponsored Senate Joint Resolution 9, which would have allowed for school choice programs to be utilized in Alaska. School choice champions also won a number of state legislative seats that will determine whether the Last Frontier will embrace its first private school choice program in the coming years.
Gov. Doug Ducey, a longtime school choice advocate, was re-elected by a wide margin, and there was no change in legislative control. The rejection of a capped expansion of the state’s education savings account (ESA) program gives lawmakers an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and craft a more comprehensive educational choice plan for all Arizonans.
School choice has faced a rocky road in the Centennial State, where Democrats for Education Reform was asked to remove “Democrat” from its name earlier this year. It’s encouraging that Jared Polis, the successful Democratic candidate for Governor, appointed school choice advocates to his education transition team. The Denver Post applauded Gov-elect Polis’s actions as “pragmatic and gracious,” and questioned whether there may be more school choice in Colorado’s future, an “idea whose time has come.”
Ron DeSantis won a close race to become Florida’s next Governor, with a recount stretching nearly two weeks after polls closed. He’s a longtime school choice advocate in a state that’s home to more than 100,000 choice families. Choice supporters have plenty of reason to be optimistic that those programs will remain in place—and could possibly grow. DeSantis also will pick three new justices for the Florida Supreme Court, which has been a forum for multiple attacks on the state’s choice programs.
While some longtime school choice legislative advocates won’t be coming back to the Statehouse, the re-election of Gov. Kim Reynolds bodes well for choice in the Hawkeye State. Lawmakers unsuccessfully tried last year to pass the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program; look for similar efforts in the coming session.
It’s worth keeping an eye on Maine, where the second-oldest educational choice program in America—a town-tuitioning system—is currently in litigation for failing to allow families to choose religious schools.
Most statewide offices switched parties, and Democrats expanded their majorities in the State Assembly and State Senate as they head into a legislative session that will include budgeting. Those majority caucuses declined to fund the state’s education savings account (ESA) program, which has been held constitutional. More than 8,000 Nevada families remain on the waiting list for an ESA; lawmakers should expect to see those families demand funding of the ESA program as well as expansion of the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program, which serves more than 2,000 students and received a $20 million one-time boost in 2017.
Gov. Chris Sununu, a longtime school choice champion, was re-elected, but several legislative advocates will not be returning to the Statehouse, where both chambers changed hands. Lawmakers last year came just short of passing a nearly universal education savings account (ESA) bill. It’s unclear whether a similar proposal will be put forth in the coming session.
Incoming Gov. Bill Lee is a staunch school choice supporter who said following the election that “I’ll be pursuing education reforms that put our students first, working hard to make sure that parents have every option to give their kids a shot at a bright future.” On the legislative front, many longtime school choice supporters are returning to the Statehouse. Tennessee is home to the nation’s fourth education savings account (ESA) program, which currently serves fewer than 100 special needs students but could be expanded. Expect to see efforts to expand school choice in the Volunteer State as early as next session.
School choice supporters in the Lone Star State can celebrate the re-election of Gov. Greg Abbott, a longtime advocate, though several legislative champions aren’t coming back to the Statehouse. Texas currently has no private school choice programs.
Longtime school choice supporter Scott Walker was defeated by longtime superintendent of public instruction and school choice naysayer Tony Evers. Although families accessing any one of Wisconsin’s five school choice programs might have reason to be concerned given Gov.-elect Evers’ rhetoric on the campaign trail, it’s worth noting that he told the crowd a few years ago at an education conference that “vouchers are here to stay.” School choice is an integral part of education in Wisconsin; it would take tremendous political will and capital to upend history—and the wishes of so many families.