LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments April 19 in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, a case arising out of Missouri that could remove a major impediment to educational choice found in many state constitutions. So-called “Blaine Amendments” have restrictive language about state funds being used by religious institutions, which may be interpreted to apply to K–12 education funding. State supreme courts, most notably and recently in school choice litigation in Indiana (Meredith vs Pence), Nevada (Lopez vs Schwartz) and Oklahoma (Oliver vs Hofmeister) have wisely ruled against applying Blaine Amendments to education funding. However, these amendments, leftover relics of discrimination from more than 100 years ago when a surge of Catholic immigrants caused some to worry about their religious influence in what was then Protestant public schools, continue to be used by opponents of school choice as whips against policymakers who have no interest in inviting litigation. The high court is expected to rule on this case by the end of June, 2017.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB 1431, a bill that phases in near-universal eligibility for the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, an education savings account (ESA) program. By the 2020–21 academic year, all students who previously attended a public school for at least 100 days in the prior year will be eligible to receive an ESA, along with students who are entering kindergarten. Learn more about how this legislation changes Arizona’s ESA program here.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law several bills making changes to the state’s Succeed Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities, including:
- HB 1056, allowing district superintendents to waive the requirement for voucher students to have previously attended a public school for a year;
- HB 1461, allowing voucher students to attend schools that are in the process of obtaining accreditation; and
- HB 1567, making children in foster homes eligible for the voucher program.
The Arkansas House also voted down HB 1222, a bill that would have created a tax credit-funded education savings account program.
After passing the Colorado Senate 18–17, the Colorado House Education Committee indefinitely postponed SB 39, a bill that would create an individual tax credit for private school tuition, in a 7–6 vote.
The Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 15, a bill that would increase the size of the scholarships students receive through the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The bill is now pending before the state senate. A companion bill, SB 902, unanimously passed the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed a scaled-down version of HB 1046, which expands Mississippi’s Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship program.
The Missouri Senate passed SB 313, a bill that would create a tax credit-funded education savings account program for students with special needs, by a margin of 20 to 12. The bill is now pending before the House.
SB 506, a bill that appropriates money for Nevada’s ESAs and moves the program from the treasurer’s office to the Department of Education, was re-referred to the Senate Finance committee where it will be exempt from the remaining legislative deadlines. SB 359, a bill that would have make administrative changes to the state’s ESA program, was not re-referred to the finance committee and failed to move forward. It will not be taken up for any further consideration.
The NH Senate passed SB 8, a bill that would allow towns lacking a public school for certain grades to provide “town tuitioning” grants to students who attend non-sectarian schools. It is currently pending before the New Hampshire House. The House retained SB 193, a bill that would create a nearly universal education savings account (ESA) program, until the 2018 legislative session. Learn more about this potential program here. A new poll of Granite Staters’ views on education policy finds that they support ESA policies by a 2 to 1 margin.
North Carolina state senators introduced SB 603, a bill that would create an education savings account program for students with special needs and children in foster care. The bill is currently pending before the Senate Rules Committee.
Both chambers of the Tennessee legislature have deferred consideration of SB 161 and HB 126, companion bills that would have created a pilot voucher program in Memphis, until the 2018 legislative session.
IN OTHER EDCHOICE NEWS
EdChoice Vice President of Programs Leslie Hiner spoke at the Islamic Schools of North America education summit in Chicago and attended the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) executive committee meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico. EdChoice President and CEO Robert Enlow also attended NCSL, where he debated with the American Federation of Teachers and other panelists.
Enlow and EdChoice Director of State Engagement Michael Chartier authored a chapter—“Public and Policymaker Perceptions of Education Savings Accounts: The Road to Real Reform?”—in the American Enterprise Institute’s new book, Education Savings Accounts: The New Frontier in School Choice by Adam Peshek, Gerard Robinson and Nat Malkus.
EdChoice released its new New Hampshire K–12 & School Choice Survey on April 19.
Authors Drew Catt, Jason Bedrick, M.P.P. and Paul DiPerna delve deeper into public opinion on, and in some cases awareness or knowledge of, a range of K–12 education topics and school choice reforms. Listen here to our podcast interview with Executive Director of Children’s Scholarship Fund New Hampshire Kate Baker.
At the Ethics & Public Policy Center’s 2017 Bradley Symposium in DC on the Future of Education Reform, EdChoice Director of Policy Jason Bedrick spoke about how top-down, test-based accountability policies have failed and why education reformers should instead direct their attention and resources toward expanding educational choice.