BRIEF: School Choice in the States – July 2020
Senators introduced the School Choice Now Act, a bill that would provide a one-time emergency appropriation for state scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs) to maintain scholarship amounts likely to be affected by a decrease in donations from the pandemic. The bill provides a dollar-for-dollar federal tax credit for donations to SGOs, capped at $5 billion per year. The bill is currently in the Senate Education Committee.
District of Columbia
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser in her FY 2021 budget request to the Council of the District of Columbia requested $90 million for the federal program that houses the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship. The request specifically seeks to expand opportunities to students who are new applicants and potential first-time scholarship grantees. The Council must approve the request act, which Congress may then consider in appropriating funds for the scholarship.
The Iowa Department of Education has been awarded $17.7 million through the Rethink K–12 Education Models Grant. This was a competitive need-based grant from U.S. Secretary of Education’s office. The Iowa Department of Education may now use these funds to help families gain access to the technology needed for virtual learning options that will be used this upcoming school year.
The Minnesota legislature introduced a number of tax bills that would affect and expand the state’s two existing school choice programs. SF 59 would expand the state’s K–12 Education Credit to include pre-K expenses, including child care. HF 62 would expand the credit to allow $25 per month worth of broadband internet services to be applied to the credit. HF 56 would affect Minnesota’s similar Education Deduction by adding deductions for music lessons, driver’s education and summer camps and related programs during the school year.
Finally, HF 61 would create an entirely new school choice program all together. The Education and Opportunity in Education Tax Credit is a proposed tax-credit scholarship for students switching from public schools with special needs or who come from families earning up to 200 percent of the free and reduced-price lunch limit ($96,940 for a family of four in 2020–21) who wish to use scholarships to attend a private school or for transportation funding to another school of choice. Both individual taxpayers as well as corporate donors are able to contribute to scholarship foundations, with credit amounts worth 70 percent of a donation with various credit caps.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced on July 28th that he would direct $1.5 million in federal money that came to New Hampshire as part of the CARES Act federal relief package to organizations that give scholarships to private elementary, middle and high schools.
Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that he would be creating three new temporary programs to provide Oklahoma families with educational opportunities during the pandemic. The programs will be funded with $30 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which is authorized by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
The “Stay in School” funds will provide 1,500 children who are homeless or from low-income families scholarships worth $6,500 to continue their enrollment in private schools. The application window opens August 10 at opsac.org. The “Bridge the Gap Wallet” works like an ESA, providing $1,500 grants to 5,000 low-income families to pay for tutoring, curricular content, and technology to allow students to learn. The scholarships will be granted on a first-come, first-serve basis by Every Kid Counts Oklahoma (EveryKidCountsOK.org). Finally, the “Learn Anywhere Oklahoma” program provides families and school districts access to high-quality digital content (including AP courses).
South Carolina Gov. McMaster announced the introduction of SAFE Grants program on July 20, 2020, which would provide K5-12 students of low- to middle-income families the opportunity to attend a school of choice. Gov. McMaster has dedicated up to $32 million of a federal grant known as the governor’s emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund for the SAFE grants program. On July 21, 2020 the program was sued and a temporary restraining order was put in place. EdChoice research has shown that 99 percent of South Carolina families live within a 30-minute drive of a private school, and 93 percent who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch live within a 20-minute drive. If the program is allowed to move forward, this one year program would be the first of its type in the Palmetto state.