BRIEF: School Choice in the States January 2014

Alabama – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

The National School Choice Week Train had a whistle-stop event in Birmingham, January 24, to celebrate the new school choice programs provided by the Alabama Accountability Act. One of the event’s speakers, Bert Gall, an attorney with the Institute for Justice (IJ), brought to light the Alabama Education Association’s lawsuit against the choice programs. IJ represents families in Montgomery and Mobile who are using these programs to send their children to private school. A hearing is scheduled for February 6.

Alaska – Michael Chartier @mchart1

SJR9 and HJR1 are continuing through the legislative process where they left off last session. Gov. Sean Parnell made a strong push for school choice in his State of the State address and advocated allowing Alaskans to vote on amending their constitution to allow for school choice. SJR 9 would remove the discriminatory Blaine Amendment in the Alaska Constitution that disallows taxpayer money going directly and indirectly to private and religious institutions.

Arizona – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

At least four bills focused on Empowerment Scholarship Accounts will be considered in the Arizona Legislature this session:

  • HB2036 would make public safety employees’ (police, fire, EMT) children and current ESA students’ siblings eligible.
  • HB2150 would make military family children eligible without a prior public enrollment requirement.
  • HB2256 would allow local school boards to vote to allow students in the district to be eligible.
  • HB2291 would make kids who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch eligible next year, then add 15 percent to the income limit each following year.

Georgia – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

The $58 million donation cap for Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship program was reached just 22 days into the new tax year. As a result of this overwhelming demand to help Georgia parents choose private education, Rep. Earl Ehrhart has introduced a bill (HB759) to increase the cap to $100 million. The largest such cap is on Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program ($286.25 million).

Iowa – Michael Chartier @mchart1

An Education Savings Account bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Chris Hagenow. This ESA is universal in nature, allow all families to participate, with the state and parents being able to deposit funds. Iowan parents would be able to pay for tuition and fees, tutoring, textbooks, or other services with the money the state deposits into their accounts. Any leftover funds in the ESA upon graduation from high school could be used for tuition at any Iowa college.

Idaho – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

A tax-credit scholarship bill is expected to be introduced in Idaho for the third year. Last year’s bill, H286, was passed by the Idaho House but did not clear the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee.

Louisiana – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

A hearing was held, January 22, to assess the progress toward an agreement between the state and the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure the statewide voucher program does not encourage segregation.

Mississippi – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

Mississippi lawmakers have filed a number of private school choice bills this session, including a tax-credit scholarship bill for low-income students in failing schools, an education savings account bill for students with special needs, and an education savings account bill for any prior-year public school student.

Missouri – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to establish education savings accounts for students with special needs (HB1066). Up to 90 percent of state funding designated for each qualifying student could be deposited in the account.

Oklahoma – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

Lawmakers in Oklahoma have introduced two bills affecting school choice, one creating Oklahoma education savings accounts (H3398) and another to restructure the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarships tax credit (S1916) to make the program easier for parents, schools, and scholarship granting organizations to navigate.

Rhode Island – Michael Chartier @mchart1

A sliding-scale voucher bill was once again introduced by Speaker Pro Tempore Elaine Coderre. Last year this bill stalled in the House Finance Committee. The bill would allow for any parent with incomes up to 300 percent of the income needed to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch (more than $100,000 for a family of four) to receive a voucher to attend any participating private school.

Tennessee – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

In January, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would like to see Tennessee adopt a voucher program for low-income students in failing schools during the 2014 legislative session. Subsequently, Tennessee lawmakers filed Opportunity Scholarship bills that would give low-income students in the bottom 10 percent of public schools (according to state test results) an opportunity to receive a voucher. An Opportunity Scholarship bill was pulled from consideration in 2013; that bill would have provided vouchers to low-income students in the bottom 5 percent of public schools.

Wisconsin – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

A group of lawmakers introduced AB682 to create the Special Needs Scholarship Program. Under the law, students must have an Individualized Education Plan in place and must have applied to another public school under the state’s Open Enrollment Program and have been rejected.