Top 10 School Choice Moments in 2013
1. Pro-voucher candidates win suburban school board election.
In November 2013, pro-school choice candidates seeking to keep or gain seats on Colorado’s Douglas County school board won in a highly contested race. In 2011, after “DougCo” school board members enacted a series of education reforms, including a universally available school voucher program, unions targeted the pro-reform candidates. The win should inspire more school boards to open their schools up to competition for the reasons DougCo’s representatives did: to save their districts money, to improve their public schools, and to give all their students access to an education, public or private, that works best for them.
2. Nation’s largest voucher program deemed constitutional.
After Indiana passed a statewide voucher program for all low-income and some middle-income families in 2011, teachers’ union officials got to work. They, and others, challenged Indiana’s voucher program in state court, alleging the Indiana Constitution prohibits funding of religious schools. On March 26, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously the state’s Choice Scholarship Program does not violate any provision of the state constitution. Participation in the program’s third year reached 19,809 students.
3. First refundable tax credit for private school tuition created.
When Alabama joined the school choice “family” in 2013, it did so in dramatic fashion, passing two tax-credit programs, one of which is the country’s first refundable tax credit for private school tuition. Under the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013, parents can receive a tax credit worth the lesser of (1) 80 percent of the average annual state cost of attending a K–12 public school or (2) their students’ actual cost of attending the choice school. If the taxes owed by the parents are less than the total credit allowed, they may receive a rebate equal to the balance of the unused credit, giving low-income families the power to choose.
4. States with first urban voucher programs expand eligibility statewide.
The cities that started today’s school voucher movement—Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1990, and Cleveland, Ohio in 1995—saw their states expand the availability of vouchers statewide in 2013. Although both programs are fairly restrictive—only low-income families qualify and the number of vouchers distributed are limited—they do dramatically symbolize the growth school choice has experienced nationwide over the past three years. Other states’ policymakers who are considering smaller school choice programs should look to Wisconsin and Ohio as reasons to now start big, and go bigger.
5. Public school converted to voucher-based independent model opens.
In North Bennington, Vermont, the local public school was the center of the community. However, as state consolidation efforts increased and threatened their existence, school leaders made a proposal: Using the state’s 140-year-old town-tuitioning law (a private school voucher program), they would close their public school and open it as an independent model with a public mission, with tuitioned/voucher students providing the school’s funding. With voters’ approval, in fall 2013, North Bennington leaders opened their private school, showing that school choice is about providing local control and empowering educators to use their skills to serve the families they know better than any state or federal bureaucrat.
1. Obama Department of Justice attacks Louisiana voucher program.
The U.S. Department of Justice drew the ire of school choice advocates nationwide when it sued to block the nation’s second-largest school voucher program in Louisiana, claiming voucher students were compromising the racial “balance” in public schools. Now a judge is asking the DOJ and Louisiana to agree on a scenario in which the program can continue while the DOJ approves whether voucher students’ participation threatens public school diversity. At the start of 2014, 6,775 Louisiana students will be using vouchers, around 91 percent of whom are minorities.
2. Louisiana Supreme Court rules against funding model for vouchers.
When the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution’s Minimum Foundation Program public education funding cannot be used to pay tuition costs at nonpublic schools (via vouchers), the court declined to rule whether a voucher program funded through other means would be constitutional. Accordingly, in June 2013, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state legislature passed a budget that would fund the students approved for vouchers. However, this is a move they will have to make in 2014 and every year going forward.
3. Montana governor vetoes tax-credit scholarship legislation.
This year, Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a tax-credit scholarship program funded by businesses and individuals, the first time such a proposal reached the governor’s desk in Montana. It would have been the first private school choice program created in America’s great northwest. Because Montana’s legislature is required constitutionally to meet only every odd-numbered year, it won’t be until 2015 when lawmakers can again send a school choice measure to their state’s governor.
4. Tennessee governor back-pedals on school vouchers.
After a school voucher measure passed Tennessee’s Senate in 2011, Gov. Bill Haslam asked that the issue be studied, which culminated in his support of a voucher plan for students in failing public schools. When school choice advocates tried to offer an amendment expanding Gov. Haslam’s proposal, however, the state’s leader rescinded his consideration of adopting vouchers in 2013—leaving the issue dead for the year. Whether Gov. Haslam will push his voucher plan again in 2014 remains unknown.
5. New Hampshire judge prohibits religious schools from tax-credit scholarship program
In June, New Hampshire’s tax-credit scholarship program was ruled unconstitutional under the state’s “No-Aid Clause” because it allowed scholarship funds to be given to students attending religious schools. The judge’s ruling did not completely strike down the program, however. The tax-credit scholarships could still be used by students to pay tuition at secular nonpublic schools and out-of-district public schools, or to pay homeschooling costs. The decision is expected to be appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 2014.