Top and Bottom Five School Choice Moments in 2014
1. Kansas joins the school choice family
It was not the same old song for education funding in Kansas this year. Rather, policymakers rose above the noise and confusion against private school choice, and included in their budget a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students confined to low-performing schools. Given the program’s two-year lifespan, however, school choice supporters have not reached a point of no return. For that, they will need to encourage donors to adequately fund the program and ensure it doesn’t float away like dust in the wind.
2. Florida creates third school choice program, nation’s second ESA
Although the decision from an NBA star, and private school graduate, to go back home was not well received this year in Florida, that did not deter policymakers from creating a new private school choice program enabling more families to customize their education, including homeschool. In May, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the nation’s second education savings accounts (ESA) program, this one for students with special needs. Because Florida already had a model voucher program for students with disabilities, the adoption of the ESA program should give more states reason to rethink how they deliver education and provide choice to families in need.
3. New Hampshire Supreme Court upholds tax-credit scholarships
The children in Jumanji’s fictional Brantford, New Hampshire could sleep easy once they wrapped their emotionally taxing game. Families choosing private or home schools through the state’s tax-credit scholarship program can similarly feel at peace, after the state’s supreme court declared the program constitutional this year and decided to allow the program to continue. Opponents of school choice no longer can play games with the parents wanting different and better learning options for their children.
4. Pro-school choice governors elected, re-elected
“Walking Dead” fans learned to survive in 2014 without threats from “the Governor.” Thankfully school choice supporters have never dealt with such evil onslaughts; however, they do know what it’s like when governors attack their base of support. In November of this year, school choice’s outlook improved dramatically with the election and re-election of pro-school choice governors. Of course, a governor’s stance isn’t always an accurate predictor of whether school choice proposals will live or die. That is why school choice supporters must continue working to stop the plague of myths surrounding school choice.
5. Colorado Supreme Court reviews district-created voucher program
Opponents of the nation’s only district-led voucher program may view it as a weed, but area residents clearly view it highly, particularly after re-electing the pro-voucher school board last year. Still, the program is not without controversy and almost went up in smoke until the state’s supreme court decided to review its constitutionality. Hearings were held in December 2014; an outcome is expected in early 2015. If that is a positive one, the buzz around the nation’s only district, universal voucher program could spread to other districts nationwide.
1. Florida unions sue to stop school choice programs
The nation’s largest scholarship program exists solely to serve low-income parents and give their children a brighter educational future. Sadly, opponents of the program can look only at the dollars they claim their schools are apparently not capturing because families are choosing something different. Thus, unions and school district leaders are suing to stop Florida’s private school choice programs. Even though families, and the program’s graduates, are speaking up in defense of the scholarships and winning legal victories, the fate of Florida school choice likely will be decided by the state’s supreme court in 2015.
2. Mississippi lawmakers reject parents’ pleas for educational choice
School choice is percolating in Mississippi—two voucher programs already exist for students with dyslexia and speech-language struggles. Parents, however, want more options—particularly ones outside traditional school buildings, public and private. In 2014, a group of parents called for the creation of ESAs for their children, and others, who have special needs. Although that proposal cleared both legislative chambers, a procedural complication prompted previously supportive lawmakers to change their position, which led to the bill’s demise. The parents are not backing down and will return in 2015.
3. New York legislature fails to send governor school choice legislation
Even though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been an outspoken proponent of tax-credit scholarships, that still did not convince New York’s House of Representatives to pass a private school choice program that already cleared the Senate. A sizeable coalition, composed of parents, school leaders, church officials, and public employee unions, is calling for its creation. Gov. Cuomo said it is a legislative priority in 2015, but there is no word on whether the House will concur.
4. Oklahoma parents’ religious school choice options targeted
Groups in Oklahoma tried once to end the state’s voucher program for students with special needs. They failed. But that did not deter their cause. Indeed, their latest lawsuit revisits an issue already decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether Ohio parents could use their children’s public funding to choose private religious options; the nation’s high court said they could. In 2014, however, a lower court in Oklahoma did not concur and voucher families’ options are in limbo. In 2015, parents likely will learn if the supply of available schools, religious and non-religious, is able to keep up with their demand for more options.
5. Amendment for universal vouchers not sent to Alaska voters
Alaska’s state government already gives every household tax rebates through the state’s oil revenue; its seems policymakers, however, are not willing to give parents similar control over their children’s public funding to choose the schools that work best for them. A proposal to give Alaskans the ability to amend their constitution to give every family that option failed to clear the legislature in 2014. School choice supporters are still calling for the legislature to give residents that vote. Expect the nation’s only universal proposal to be up for consideration again in Alaska in 2015.