BRIEF: School Choice in the States – June 2020
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 7067, a bill that significantly expands the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship program. The bill expands income-eligibility from 185 percent of the federal poverty line ($47,638 for a family of four in 2019–20) to 300 percent of the federal poverty line ($77,250 for a family of four in 2019–20). Students from lower-income families will still be given priority. It also quadruples the Family Empowerment Scholarship program’s allowed annual enrollment growth from 7,000 to 28,000. Additionally, the bill changes the eligibility guidelines for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which serves more than 100,000 students. Students whose families initially meet the income eligibility guidelines will now remain eligible regardless of future income growth.
The Iowa General Assembly reconvened to continue the legislative session after a break due to COVID-19. During this time the bill HF 2641 was introduced. This omnibus bill, which contains provisions over several bills and issues, contained language that improves the Iowa School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program. On June 29, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law.
With this new law, if school tuition organizations (STOs) reach 90 percent of their tax credits allocated statewide, the current 15 million dollar cap will increase by 10 percent until the cap reaches $20 million. The program will also see the removal of language that limited C-Corp donations to 25 percent of STOs total allocations.
Mississippi’s SB 2594 was signed into law by Gov. Tate Reeves. The bill extends the life of the state’s education savings account until 2024, but with significant changes to the program. Most notably, students will no longer be able to attend schools that are located out of state or access online options. This will upend some students from schools that best meet their needs.
HB 621 failed to pass in committee on June 6. If passed, it would have created a flexible tax-credit scholarship for Mississippi. The bill would have allowed low-income students to use the tax credit for private school tuition, fees textbooks, uniforms, educational services, tutoring and online educational expenses.
Victory! On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) handed down its ruling in Espinoza vs. Montana Dept of Revenue, Case No. 18-1195, and reversed the ruling of the Montana Supreme Court holding that their school choice program is unconstitutional. SCOTUS held that the Montana Supreme Court was “obligated to disregard the no-aid provision and decide this case consistent with the Federal Constitution.” Montana’s no-aid provision, also known as a Blaine Amendment, was held to discriminate against religious schools based on their status as religious entities, and as such, was in direct violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the US Constitution.
Quoting from Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 180 (1803) and Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, SCOTUS wrote that the U.S. Constitution “condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them. They are “member[s] of the community too,” and their exclusion from the scholarship program here is “odious to our Constitution” and “cannot stand.”
This landmark ruling will free most states from the discriminatory Blaine Amendments and no-aid provisions found in well over half the country’s state constitutions. EdChoice will continue to work closely with our friends and heroes, the Institute for Justice who initiated this litigation, as we help families and policymakers embrace new school choice opportunities which are now available to them.
Kudos and gratitude to Dick Komer, Tim Keller, Erica Smith and the entire team at the Institute for Justice who steadfastly worked this case. The EdChoice Legal Defense & Education Center was honored to work with these fine litigators, filing three amicus briefs in support of this case. And kudos to Jeff Laszloffy and all our friends in Montana who had the wisdom and dedication to work over 10 years, in earnest since November of 2009, to adopt the school choice program at the heart of the litigation and support its subsequent litigation all the way.
On June 26, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled on a motion for WRIT of Mandamus that the Legislative Council Bureau Legal Division has an attorney-client relationship with Democratic lawmakers but not Republican lawmakers and therefore, can represent Democratic lawmakers against Republican lawmakers who sued the Democrat majority in Settelmeyer vs. Cannizaro, Case No. 190C-00127-1B-II. The case alleges that majority Democratic lawmakers passed a bill extending the sunset date of the Minimum Business Tax and repealing Nevada’s best in the nation education savings account without the constitutionally required two-thirds vote. The bill was passed with a simple majority. This case will now proceed at the trial court, First Judicial District, in Carson City.