BRIEF: School Choice in the States February 2014

Alabama – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

Alabama lawmakers filed a bill (HB 558) that would amend the Alabama Accountability Act to define individual donors as shareholders or partners of S corporations or Subchapter K entities. The bill would also eliminate the $7,500 cap on individual contributions. The Alabama Accountability Act currently requires scholarship granting organizations to wait until September 15 to distribute scholarships to lower-income students who are not in a “failing” public school. In HB 558, the date would be moved from September 15 to May 15.

Alaska – Michael Chartier @mchart1

Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 9 is making its way through the state’s Senate chamber. This piece of legislation will give voters the opportunity to amend the Alaska Constitution’s Blaine Amendment, clearing the way for a universal voucher program that would make all families eligible for school choice. SJR 9 will have a two-fold effect: First, it will protect current programs from being deemed unconstitutional should a court challenge ever be brought, and, second, it would allow all Alaskan children to access independent schooling services using their dedicated education funds.

Arizona – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

Arizona continues to seek expanding its one-of-a-kind education savings accounts (ESA) program through several legislative proposals:

  • HB2036, which would make children of public safety employees eligible for ESAs, failed to pass the House Education Committee. However, HB 2291 (info below) includes similar expansion language.
  • HB2150, which would make children of active-duty military members or those killed in action eligible for ESAs without have to first attend public school for one year, has moved to the Committee of the Whole and likely will be voted on by the full House in early March.
  • HB2291 passed the House Committee of the Whole and likely will be voted on and sent to the Senate in early March. The bill greatly expands eligibility for ESAs to include students who qualify for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program, children of emergency first responders, including police, fire, and EMTs, and siblings of current ESA students.

Georgia – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

Efforts to increase the state’s tax-credit cap to $100 million to allow for more scholarships appear to be in an indefinite holding pattern. The state’s approaching elections for governor, state superintendent, a U.S. Senate seat, in addition to the customary midterm races are incenting legislators from moving such issues toward a vote.

Idaho – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

House Bill 507, which would create a $10 million tax-credit scholarship program, was introduced in the House Committee on Revenue & Taxation. Scholarships would be available to families whose income is at or below 150 percent of the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program and cannot exceed the state’s per-pupil funding amount. Because the tax credit would be valued at 50 percent of the donation, up to $20 million would be available for scholarships.

Iowa – Michael Chartier @mchart1

A bill that would create Iowa’s first ESA is awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee. If passed, this would be the country’s first ESA program outside Arizona and the first to provide universal eligibility.

Kansas – Michael Chartier @mchart1

Sen. Steve Abrams (R-Arkansas City) has introduced an ESA proposal, similar to Arizona’s, allowing parents of children with special needs to qualify. Unlike Arizona’s, it also will allow children who qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch to be eligible. Children in “failing” public schools would receive ESAs as well.

Mississippi – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

Last month Mississippi’s Senate and House of Representatives passed the Equal Opportunity for All Students with Special Needs Act, SB 2325 and HB 765 respectively. Because of differences in both pieces of legislation, one version must again clear another full chamber. Accordingly, following those passages, the House Education Committee and House Appropriations Committee approved the Senate bill. The Senate Education Committee also passed the House bill, meaning both versions will receive full votes in both chambers.

In late February, parents from across Mississippi gathered at the state capitol to support the ESA proposal. Its sponsors, Rep. Carolyn Crawford (R-Harrison) and Sen. Nancy Adams Collins (R-Lee, Pontotoc), hosted a press conference and committee hearing featuring parents Mary Sue Brown-Durr from Jackson, Debra Dye from Olive Branch, and Tupelo’s Natalie Gunnells and Katie and John McCustion. “All my husband and I ask is the freedom to take the education money that is attached to our son and use it where his needs can be met,” Katie McCustion said at the press conference. “The right learning environment will make all the difference for him emotionally, physically, and academically.”

Oklahoma – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

Oklahoma’s effort to create the state’s first ESA program stalled in the House Appropriations Committee. Additionally, a bill to sunset the state’s tax-credit scholarship program in 2017 passed the Senate and has moved on to the House.

Rhode Island – Michael Chartier @mchart1

Speaker Pro Tempore Elaine Coderre (D-Pawtucket) introduced a voucher bill, which would provide a sliding-scale voucher based on parental income.