BRIEF: School Choice in the States October 2013

Alabama – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

Last spring the Alabama legislature passed two new school choice programs in the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA): a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income families and a tax credit or rebate for any family that transfers their child from a failing public school to a private school.

The Alabama Education Association subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming the school choice programs violate the state constitution’s provision regarding public funds being used for charitable and religious institutions. In October, a Montgomery judge granted a motion to allow parents from Montgomery and Mobile to intervene as defendants in the lawsuit. The parents are represented by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that defends civil liberties.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has also filed a lawsuit against the Accountability Act claiming it violates equal protection. The State Attorney General is seeking dismissal of both of the lawsuits.

Arizona – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s ruling that the state’s first-of-its-kind education savings accounts (ESAs) are constitutional because “[a]ny aid to religious schools would be the result of the genuine and independent private choices of the parents.” Opponents of the program quickly appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, but the justices have not yet decided whether they will hear the case. The Friedman Foundation published two studies on ESAs, one on how accounts are being used and one on participant satisfaction.

Indiana – Robert Enlow @RobertEnlow

Voucher applications for the 2013-14 school year came in at more than 20,000 students. This marks the largest single-year increase of any private school choice voucher program in the nation with an increase of more than 100 percent. The $4,700 voucher was available to all income-qualified students starting in August.

Kansas – Michael Chartier @mchart1

Kansas lawmakers are in the process of evaluating their school funding formula after a state Supreme Court case ordered the legislature to increase spending for public schools. The court ordered an additional $654 be spent per student, which would cost the state almost $450 million dollars. Friedman Foundation Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Jeff Spalding and Foundation Senior Fellow Dr. Ben Scafidi will testify in front of a special legislative committee discussing the Kansas and neighboring states’ funding formula as well as the state’s staff hiring surge.

Louisiana – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

The U.S. Department of Justice’s attempts to halt the statewide voucher program over claims it violates decades-old desegregation orders continued when it filed a motion to oppose parent intervention in the lawsuit. Gov. Bobby Jindal has continued his unwavering support of the choice program, harshly criticizing the attempts by the federal government to stop a program specifically designed to help students in failing schools.

North Carolina – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

Applications for the Special Education Scholarship Grants program became available October 1 and the $3,000-per-semester grant will be available to eligible students beginning January 2014.

Oklahoma – Robbie Rhinesmith @rrhinesmith85

A group of Oklahoma taxpayers filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program is unconstitutional under the state’s Blaine amendment. The Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed a prior lawsuit challenging the program on procedural grounds.

Rhode Island – Michael Chartier @mchart1

The Friedman Foundation released its Rhode Island K–12 and School Choice Survey earlier this week. The majority of voters in all political parties favor school choice options, and 62 percent believe vouchers should be available to parents universally. A voucher policy was introduced in the legislature by Rep. Elaine Coderre (D-Pawtucket) in 2013, but did not have enough support to advance. Lawmakers will likely consider the measure again in 2014.

Tennessee – Stephanie Linn @StephanieJLinn

A statewide grassroots campaign supporting school choice launched in Knoxville and Memphis in October. School Choice Now Tennessee is sponsoring meetings for parents to learn about school choice and how it could benefit their families and communities. Stephanie Linn, state programs and government relations director for the Friedman Foundation, spoke at a School Choice Now event on October 28 at the King’s Academy in Seymour, Tennessee.

Last year, the Tennessee legislature introduced a bill that would have given low-income students who attend public schools in the bottom 5 percent in achievement a school choice voucher, called an Opportunity Scholarship. The Tennessee legislature will likely consider Opportunity Scholarships again once the legislature convenes in January.