BRIEF: School Choice in the States, June 2017
LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
On June 26, the US Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Missouri (Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia vs Comer). The high court held that the state may not exclude religious entities from participating in a generally available public benefit program—in this particular case, a child safety program offering recycled tire material to be used on children’s playgrounds. In the opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “… the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution all the same, and cannot stand.”
As a result of the Trinity Lutheran decision, on June 27 the US Supreme Court accepted the Petitions for Writ of Certiorari to hear the voucher case arising out of Douglas County, Colorado (Doyle vs Taxpayers for Public Education) and the private school textbook case arising out of Albuquerque, New Mexico (New Mexico Association of Nonpublic Schools vs Moses). The high court accepted the petitions, vacated the rulings from their respective state supreme courts, and ordered the Colorado and New Mexico Supreme Courts to reconsider those cases in light of the Trinity Lutheran decision. This renews hope in Colorado that the Douglas County public school district voucher program will be found constitutional and may begin to offer scholarships for parents to decide where to send their children to school.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 15, a bill that would increase the size of the scholarships students receive through the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The bill previously passed the Florida House unanimously and passed the Florida Senate 27–11. The governor also signed HB 7069, a school funding bill that includes an additional $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship Program, an education savings account program for students with special needs.
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, on June 26 that Georgia’s universal tax-credit scholarship program may continue, holding that the plaintiffs had no standing to bring litigation against the program because they suffered no injury. (Gaddy vs Georgia Department of Revenue)
Gov. Sam Brownback signed SB 19, a bill that expanded eligibility to receive tax credits for donations to scholarship organizations to individual taxpayers in addition to corporate taxpayers. The bill passed the Kansas House and Senate unanimously.
The Nevada legislature failed to fund the state’s education savings account (ESA) program. No ESAs will be distributed to parents. Conversely, the legislature enacted a one-time temporary tax credit cap increase of an additional $20 million for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program. That money will be exhausted when the entire cap is used, and currently there is no plan to make up any shortfall after the money runs out.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed SB 8, a bill allowing towns lacking a public school for certain grades to provide “town tuitioning” grants to students who attend non-sectarian schools. This is New Hampshire’s second school choice program. The governor also signed HB 386, a bill that modifies New Hampshire’s tax-credit scholarship program so that eligible families can use the funds for a wide variety of educational expenditures in addition to (or instead of) private school tuition, similar to education savings account programs.
The North Carolina legislature overrode the governor’s veto to enact SB 257, a bill creating a new education savings account program for students with special needs. Eligible students can receive up to $9,000 per year for a wide variety of educational and therapeutic uses as well as education-related transportation.
Gov. John Kasich signed HB 49, a budget bill which increases per-student funding for the Cleveland Scholarship Program, continues the phase-in of the Income-Based Scholarship Program, and extends the application window for the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program to year-round for children who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The bill passed the Ohio House 58–37 and the Ohio Senate 24–8.
IN OTHER EDCHOICE NEWS
EdChoice sponsored an education panel at the 100 Black Men of America annual conference, in New Orleans. The audience of members, parents, policymakers, and community leaders heard from people with experience in school choice and improving public education, including a mother and her son who accessed a voucher that enabled the son to succeed at a different school.
Leslie Hiner spoke on the Women in Education panel at the Heartland Institute, live-streamed, with panelists Joy Pullmann, research fellow on education policy at The Heartland Institute; Vicki Alger, fellow at the Independent Institute and Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy with The Heritage Foundation. Hiner also spoke to an audience of conservative college women on “Three Things You Need to Know about Education” at the national conference of the Network of Enlightened Women held in D.C.
Hiner was interviewed for a podcast with Teresa Mull, for the Heartland Institute, “Education Policy Progress in the States.” She also was interviewed in studio on EWTN Nightly News TV, the EWTN Global Catholic Network, the largest religious media network in the world, speaking on private school admission policies under school choice programs and the status of federal activity regarding school choice.