As we face a pandemic, school choice in the states saw a dip in activity last month. Some bills continued to progress, however. Let our state and legal teams help you stay up to date on the latest in our monthly brief.
The Arizona legislature passed and Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB 1224, a bill that would allow families to use education savings accounts (ESAs) to pay tuition at schools located outside of Arizona but within two miles of Native American tribal land. The amended form of the bill also provides additional funding for the Arizona Department of Education to hire staff to administer the program and shifts some oversight to the state board of education.
In a vote of 21-14, the Florida Senate passed HB 7067, a bill that would expand eligibility for the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship program. The bill would expand 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 increases 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 bill previously passed the Florida House and now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.
In a bipartisan vote of 33-22, the Georgia Senate passed HB 7067, a bill that expands the state’s Special Needs Scholarship program. The bill makes several important changes to the program, including allowing certain students with 504 plans to participate (including those with autism, cerebral palsy and dyslexia), opening the scholarships to students who attended a public special-needs preschool and making eligible students who were recently adopted or placed in foster care. The bill now goes to the Georgia House for consideration.
Maryland’s budget, which includes appropriations for the state’s BOOST voucher program, passed both chambers and is awaiting Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature. The bill slightly modifies the testing requirements of participating private schools, as well as various administrative reporting requirements.
Lawmakers in Minnesota introduced SF 3824, a bill creating a tax-credit scholarship program for students to use at private schools as well as for transportation funds. The bill is a companion to HF 3790, which was introduced in February in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The senate bill was read and referred to the Senate Taxes Committee in early March.
HB 1267 would create the Mississippi Child Safety Account Act died in Committee on March 3, 2020. This bill would have created an education savings account for an amount equal to the state share of adequate education program payments for children involved in a safety incident. These safety incidents included, but were not limited to, incidents of bullying, sexual harassment, gang activity, fighting, drug use and/or for a shooting occurring on grounds of a child’s public school.
We continue to watch SB 2594 in Mississippi. The state’s ESA program originally passed in 2015 and is set to sunset in June of 2020. SB 2594 would extend the program to 2024. It does make changes to the ESA program, including requiring eligible schools to be special purpose schools or schools servicing a student’s disability, removing virtual and out-of-state schools as options for ESA recipients, and requiring parents or schools that are taking ESA children to reimburse a school district if an ESA student receives any services at district schools. The bill passed the state Senate on March 6, 2020. It is currently in the House. With the Mississippi legislature out due to COVID-19, we will be watching to see what happens to this program.
In a vote of 5-3, the Missouri Administrative Oversight committee passed HB 1733, a bill that would create a tax-credit funded “Empowerment Scholarship Account” program for students living in most non-rural areas. The committee also passed HB 2068, a bill to create the “Show Me a Brighter Future Scholarship” program that would leverage tax credits and 529 plans to expand K–12 educational opportunities. Both bills previously passed the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.
S 8005 was referred to Investigations and Government Operations on March 9, 2020. If passed it would create various tax credits including individual tax credits for home instructional materials and individual tax credits for expenses paid at qualified educational schools for low- and middle-income individuals. The bill would also allow for qualified contributions to go to public schools for improvement and enrichment.
The Ohio legislature passed and Gov. Mike DeWine signed HB 197, a bill that contains a number of emergency provisions in response to the COVID-19 crisis. One provision halts the expansion in eligibility for the Educational Choice Scholarship program. Students assigned to low-performing schools are eligible for the scholarships. In 2019–20, students assigned to 517 district schools were eligible, but in the 2020–21 school year, the number of schools on that list was going to rise to 1,227 schools. HB 197 restricts 2020–21 eligibility to students assigned to the 517 schools on the low-performing list in 2019-20 as well as siblings of current scholarship students.
HB 3681 and SB 556 remain alive but unclear in South Carolina. Both of these bills would create an education scholarship account. SB 556 moved to full committee. These accounts would be able to be used by children from low-income households and children with special needs. South Carolina legislature is currently adjourned due to COVID-19.
HB 332, a tax-credit scholarship proposal for students with special needs, passed both chambers of the Utah legislature last month. Citing economic uncertainty among other reasons, Gov. Gary Herbert vetoed the bill April 1.