BRIEF: School Choice in the States August 2014

Alabama – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

Thirty public school superintendents signed on to the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the school choice program provided under the Alabama Accountability Act. The law is presently in effect while being appealed in the judicial system. The Friedman Foundation filed an amicus curiae in defense of the school choice program.

Colorado – Doran Moreland @Dmoreland9

The Friedman Foundation and Independence Institute filed amicus briefs in response to ones filed by the National Education Association, the Colorado Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers challenging the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Pilot Program. David Kopel detailed the Colorado legal proceedings in this Washington Post op-ed.

Florida – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

On August 28, the Florida Education Association and other groups filed a lawsuit challenging the nation’s largest school choice program, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Plaintiffs claim the program aids religious institutions and violates the state’s constitutional mandate to provide Florida children with free public schools.

Florida’s tax-cedit scholarship program is currently in its 13th year of operation and serves more than 60,000 students from low-income households. In 2014, the Florida legislature passed an education bill that included an expansion of the program to include a broader pool of eligible students and a marginal increase of the maximum scholarship value.

The Florida Education Association filed a separate lawsuit last month that challenges a Florida law that includes the expansion of the tax-credit scholarship program and the creation of a new program called the Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program, which is an education savings account (ESA) for students with special needs. The teachers’ union contends the law violates a state constitutional requirement that each piece of legislation be limited to a single subject.

See full details of the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program and Florida Tax Credit Scholarship expansion here.

Kansas – Michael Chartier @Mchart1

Earlier this year the Kansas legislature passed HB 2506, which included funding provisions for public schools, as well as a tax-credit scholarship program and changes to the teacher tenure law. In response to that, the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA) filed a lawsuit challenging the tenure aspect of the law. The KNEA is contending the tenure portion violates the “single subject rule” of the Kansas Constitution. Although that lawsuit does not directly challenge the tax-credit scholarship program, success by the KNEA in the lawsuit could lay the groundwork for a challenge by other groups to the new funding program.

New Hampshire – Michael Chartier @Mchart1

The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that challengers of the state’s tax-credit scholarship program did not have standing, thus allowing the program to remain in operation. For details of that ruling, read our Friedman Fellow’s blog post here.

Oklahoma – Doran Moreland @Dmoreland9

Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he would appeal a ruling that invalidated a portion of the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program, which allows parents of children with special needs to choose private educational settings using vouchers.

A district court judge ruled funds from the scholarship program cannot be used to send students with disabilities to sectarian schools. The judge’s order is stayed pending appeal, which means the voucher program remains unchanged for now.

“This scholarship program empowers parents of children with disabilities to obtain scholarship monies from the state to fund their child’s enrollment and attendance in a private school of their choosing,” Pruitt said. “Prohibiting the use of Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship funds from being used to send students with disabilities to sectarian schools would require the state to discriminate against those schools. That is highly troublesome and why we will appeal the ruling.”For a more detailed look at the legal proceedings in Oklahoma, click here.

National – Leslie Hiner @lesliehiner

The Center for Education Reform (CER) released in late August its first-ever analysis of school voucher laws, School Choice Today: Voucher Laws Across the States Ranking & Scorecard 2014. Of the 15 voucher programs currently in existence, three states were awarded A grades, three states B grades, seven states C grades, and two states Ds.

“Having a voucher law on the books is a good start, but not enough to make sure kids are actually benefitting,” Kara Kerwin, CER’s president said. “Voucher design and implementation make all the difference in determining the strength of a program and the ability for families to use it when choosing a different school.”

For CER, the best state laws have no cap on the number of vouchers that can be awarded, allowing parental demand to be fully met. Voucher programs also should avoid onerous intrusion into the operation of private schools and allow a sizeable percentage of a child’s funding to follow him or her to the private school chosen by their parents.