LEGISLATION AND LITIGATION
Arizona – Michael Chartier @mchart1
The Arizona legislature expanded the states education savings account (ESA) program by making children who are legally blind and/or deaf or hard of hearing eligible. The state also opened the ESA program to a year-round application window.
Arkansas – Brittany Corona @BrittanyLCorona
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed on May 9 the state’s 2016–17 budget, which included funding for the Succeed Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities, a statewide school voucher program. By fall 2016, up to 100 Arkansas students may use a voucher to attend a private school of choice. Eligible students must have an Individualized Education Plan and be enrolled in Arkansas public school for at least one year or be a dependent of an active-duty military member.
Florida – Brittany Corona @BrittanyLCorona
Leon County Judge George Reynolds dismissed on May 24 a 7-year-old lawsuit against the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which allows more than 78,000 students in the Sunshine State to have access to school choice. The suit began as a challenge to the state’s “adequately funding public education” provision and expanded in 2014 to include a host of other policies and the other two Florida choice programs, the McKay voucher program and the Gardiner Scholarship Program.
In 2015, another Florida judge ruled the plaintiffs (the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Florida Education Association, and others) did not have standing to challenge the private school choice programs. Judge Reynolds’ dismissal explains that Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program relies on private (not public) funding and that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any harm resulting from the program. One other lawsuit against Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program is still pending a ruling.
Minnesota– Brittany Corona @BrittanyLCorona
HF 1369 is a bill that would create a tax-credit scholarship program in Minnesota. The bill was inserted in the state’s final budget agreement this month, then removed to be considered in the biennial budget process in 2017. The bill would have created a tax-credit scholarship program for students whose household income does not exceed the federal free and reduced-price lunch threshold and have attended public school for the first time or the semester prior to application. The program would have allowed taxpayers an 80 percent tax credit for donations to scholarship granting organizations.
Missouri – Brittany Corona @BrittanyLCorona
The Missouri Senate Education and Jobs committee passed HB 1589 on May 6. The bill would create a tax credit-funded ESA program. However, the bill failed to pass in the Senate. The ESA would have allowed taxpayers to donate to educational assistance organizations (EAOs), nonprofits that provide flexible-spending scholarship accounts to prior public school students with special needs, in return for a 75 percent tax credit. Parents could then use their scholarship accounts to pay for a variety of learning services and providers.
Nevada – Michael Chartier @mchart1
Judge Eric Johnson dismissed one of two lawsuits (the one filed by the ACLU) against Nevada’s Education Savings Accounts. Judge Johnson determined the program does not violate the portion of the state’s constitution that bans use of public funds for sectarian purposes. The dismissed case did not contain the injunction that is currently halting the program. Oral arguments for that case, Lopez v Schwartz, will take place July 8.
State Treasurer Dan Schwartz said his office has received an estimated 6,000 plus applications throughout the past year and that all applications received during the enrollment period were date stamped and will be processed promptly if the injunction is lifted.
New Hampshire – Leslie Hiner @LeslieHiner
The New Hampshire Senate amended on May 5 HB 1637, a bill clarifying the state’s law regarding town tuitioning. On May 19, the House filed a motion to non-concur in the bill as amended, and the Senate acceded to a Committee of Conference to reconsider the bill and its amendment. On May 26, a conference committee report was agreed to and filed, amending the bill to be closer to the original version as amended by the House, but also including additional language which further strengthened the authority of towns without public schools to pay tuition for resident children to attend the private or neighboring public school of their parent’s choice. Final votes in the House and Senate are expected on June 1. If passed by both Chambers, the bill will be enrolled, then sent to the governor for signature, veto or no action, which would allow the bill to become law without her signature.
IN OTHER NEWS
Friedman Foundation Vice President of Programs Leslie Hiner met with the Wall Street Journal editorial board on May 3 and was interviewed for a WSJ Opinion Journal podcast with Mary Kissel regarding the Stanford study, The Geography of Racial/Ethnic Test Score Gaps. Hiner also was interviewed on May 19 for a WSJ Opinion Journal podcast with Mary Kissel regarding the excellent ruling in Duncan v. State of Nevada by the district court in Clark County, Nevada. The court ruled that Nevada’s nearly universal education savings account is constitutional. Finally, Hiner was quoted extensively on May 8 in a Las Vegas Review-Journal article written by Sandra Chereb, “Legal battle over Nevada’s school choice law closer to resolution.”
Friedman Foundation State Programs and Government Relations Director Brittany Corona led an America’s Future Foundation Pennsylvania chapter through chapters 4–6 of Milton Friedman’s widely acclaimed Free to Choose, with a focus on school choice education reform. In these chapters, the Friedman Foundation founder discusses the problem of the welfare state and “equality of outcome” and how school choice can address both of those societal issues. Corona also spoke on ESA policy, implementation and the 2016 state legislatures that considered the policy to the American Legislative Exchange Council Education Taskforce Committee.