BRIEF: School Choice in the States, April 2019
LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
After passing the Arkansas Senate during the last week of March, SB 539 died in the Arkansas House of Representatives in late April. The bill would have established a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students and those already eligible to participate in the Succeed Scholarship Program. A pilot tax-credit scholarship bill for Pulaski County, SB 620, also died in the State Senate.
The Florida House and Senate both passed SB 7070, a bill that would create a voucher program for 18,000 children low- and middle-income families. The cap on enrollment increases by about 7,000 scholarships per year and priority is given to children from low-income families (earning up to 185% of the federal poverty line) and children in foster care. Gov. DeSantis is expected to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
House Resolution 289, which seeks to protect funding for Illinois’s Invest in Kids program, added additional co-sponsors and was referred to the Revenue and Finance Committee.
The state budget, HEA 1001, was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb and included an increase to the tax-credit scholarship program to $16.5 million over the biennium. Additionally, families with incomes between 100-125 percent of the level of income needed to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, will receive 70 percent of what the state would have spent on their education. This is up from 50 percent.
HF779 was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds. This legislation increased the credit cap for the state’s tax credit scholarship by $2 million over the biennium.
Multiple budget bills appropriating funds for the Louisiana Scholarship Program and the Tuition Donation Credit Program were introduced and referred to committees.
In addition, Louisiana lawmakers introduced and read HB 592. The bill creates an “earning enhancement” for contributions to students’ 529 accounts for use of private school tuition and education expenses. It provides a within-fund “Savings Enhancement Fund” for which the state will match contributions, which vary between 2-14 percent based off an account holder’s income. It also provides for income tax deductions for contributions worth up to $2,400 for single filers and $4,800 for those filing jointly. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.
In Carson vs Hasson, on April 5 plaintiff parents represented by the Institute for Justice filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, asking the U.S. District Court in Maine to rule that Maine “. . . disadvantages families for choosing religious private schools by denying them generally available tuition benefits, thereby burdening their free exercise of religion and violating the strict religious neutrality the First Amendment requires.” Defendants also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.
In Espinoza vs Montana Dept of Revenue, EdChoice and 12 others filed amicus briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Montana parents who are asking the Court to consider their case. Previously, the Montana Supreme Court ruled Montana’s tax credit scholarship program unconstitutional; parents relying on that program to fund their children’s education, represented by the Institute for Justice, in March filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari requesting the U.S. Supreme Court consider whether government can bar religious options in student-aid programs, as occurred in Montana. The Montana Department of Revenue was granted an extension of time to file their response, to May 15. If the Court accepts the case, the merits of the case will be heard during the next term of the Court which begins in October of this year.
AB 458 a bill that would cap the amount of the tax credit for the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship passed out of the Assembly on third reading by a vote of 28-12. It has been introduced in the Senate where it is awaiting a hearing in the Revenue and Economic Development Committee. The bill would also remove the 110 percent automatic escalator clause for the program.
HB 632 was introduced on Jan. 16, 2019. It was a direct attempt to repeal the tax-credit scholarship program in New Hampshire and was tabled in late March 2019. SB 318, which would have significantly changed the nature of the tax credit scholarship program in New Hampshire by creating a Public School Grant Program was also tabled. The tax-credit scholarship program allowed 413 students greater choice in the state of New Hampshire for the 2019 school year.
SB 583 and HB 769 was filed in April of 2019. If passed, it would stop the funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program, while remitting any remaining funds to the Public School Building Capital Fund. The Opportunity Scholarship provides private school vouchers to children from low-income households. Families can use these school vouchers to pay for tuition, transportation, equipment and other necessary private school expenses. This program enabled choice for 9,603 students in the 2019 year.
SB 582 was filed in April of 2019. If passed, it would change requirements for schools that participate in the Opportunity Scholarship program and the Scholarship Grant for Children with Disabilities. As currently written, schools that participate in these choice programs must administer a nationally norm referenced exam to track student progress. Under SB 582, schools would be required to administer the State Board of Education exams.
The Oklahoma House Budget and Appropriations Committee passed SB 407, a bill that would increase the tax credits available for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program from $3.5 million to $10 million.
The Pennsylvania House Education Committee passed HB 800, a bill that would increase the total tax credits available for scholarships by $100 million and allow the total to grow by 10 percent annually. Additionally, Pennsylvania state representative Andrew Lewis introduced HB 1296, a bill that would create an education scholarship account program for military families.
There are currently two bills in the state of South Carolina—one in the House and one the Senate that would establish an Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program in the state for children who are diagnosed with special needs or low income. HB 3681 took testimony in its subcommittee on April 30, 2019. SB 556 has been referred to the Education Committee. If either bill is passed, children who receive an ESA could use the funds for 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.
Tennessee’s adequacy funding case continues. In Shelby County Board of Education vs. William Haslam et. al., the trial set for April into May was cancelled pending rulings on motions and production of documents in advance of trial. A status conference has been set for May 20.