Ep. 234: Our 2021 School Choice Yearbook Superlatives - EdChoice

Ep. 234: Our 2021 School Choice Yearbook Superlatives

February 1, 2021

As we do every year, the EdChoice team got together to vote on yearbook superlative categories, such as Most Empowering, Biggest Setback and our newest recognition, Most Choice-y State, in 2021.

Read the blog post here.

Jennifer Wagner: Hey there, and welcome to another episode of EdChoice Chats. I am your host, our head of our comms shop, Jennifer Wagner. And I am joined today by Leslie Hiner, the head of our Legal Defense and Education Center; Mike Shaw, our senior research analys; and Jason Bedrick, our director of policy. And we have a really fun podcast today. This is one of my favorite things that we do every year in conjunction with national school choice week and the release of our ABCs of School Choice, which, if you don’t know, now you know, is the go-to handbook of all of our school choice programs operational in the country. So, check it out on our website, but today we get to go through our superlatives.

So, for those of you who want to take a trip down memory lane and remember your time in high school when the yearbook came out, and maybe you were voted the best or the not-so-best of something. Well, that’s what we do here at EdChoice. Every year, we get our heads together in January, and we’d go through all the school choice programs, and we decide the best of the best, the best of the rest, where things look good for the coming year. And we recap some of our challenges.

So, without further ado, I’m going to be quiet and let our amazing team get into our first superlative, which is the Most Choice-y State and new category alert. This is not something that we have scored before, but we wanted to make sure that we were tracking the total share of students that were choosing an educational setting beyond their assigned district schools. So we have two categories within the category, two winners within the category. The first is Arizona, which has the largest share of students using a non-public school option. So mostly using private schools. And then, we have our second winner in this category, which is Louisiana, for the state that has the highest total percentage of students choosing an educational setting other than their assigned district school. So I will kick that over to Mike and Jason for further discussion.

Jason Bedrick: Sure. Thank you, Jen. History has its eyes on Arizona because Arizona was the first to pass a tax-credit scholarship program. It was the first to pass an education savings account, and it has the highest EdChoice share in the country, which, as Jen defined, is using a private educational choice program. So here we’re not talking about charter schools, we’re not talking about inter-district choice, but we are talking about things like tax credits, ESAs, vouchers, etc.

So at 7%, Arizona is the highest, though Louisiana, especially post-Katrina, they converted most of the schools in New Orleans into charter schools. They’ve got a very high charter percentage. So Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans, is doing very, very well. Although I will say, we didn’t track this only because there is no good national data source on how many students are using inter-district enrollment. In Arizona, at least in Maricopa County, which is about 60% of the state population. We know that more than 30% of students are using inter-district choice.

So at least in Maricopa County, when you combine the students that are attending a traditional public school that is out of their district or who are using a charter school, Arizona has the highest rate of charter usage in the country at about between 17-18%. And that 7% of students that are using a tax-credit scholarship or ESA. And then all the other students that are homeschooling were going to private school without using one of those options. More than half of the students in Maricopa County, Arizona, are actually in a learning environment besides their assigned school. So that makes them the choicest state in the union.

Mike Shaw: Yeah, Jason, that’s a really important caveat on the data. Like you said, there aren’t really great national data on inter-district transfers up enrollment. There’s various terms for them. In fact, not even every state authorizes open enrollment. So that’s an important thing to note, but you do have a significant number of states with a significant amount of choosers, Louisiana, Arizona being two of them. And actually, I mean, if you wanted to get technical Washington, D.C, if you’re talking about purely the U.S. jurisdiction with the smallest percentage of students going to the residential use science school actually is the smallest number of bandwidth just under 50%, but important caveats, nonetheless, and just like, I guess, regular superlatives in high school, even though a lot of these categories are based off the data, a lot of it ends up being subjective. And I guess who the yearbook editor ends up being in the end.

Jennifer Wagner: Yeah. And I mean Jason, you do live in Arizona. So, we never tip the scales here. These are data-driven categories. Although later on, we will get into some that are more opinion-based. And just a reminder to those of us who are listening, if you want to know how your state stacks up in the EdChoice share rankings, you can check out our website. We have a blog post entirely dedicated to that. And you can also find out more information if you order a copy of the ABCs. And again, I’m going to have to lean into this one because it’s Jason’s home state, but our next category is Most Empowering Program. And for the fourth year in a row, Arizona’s education savings account program has won this category. So Jason, go on and brag on your home state some more.

Jason Bedrick: Look, I mean, Arizona doesn’t miss a shot. This category you look at purchasing power, funding streams, stability, and the ability of parents to use their funds flexibly. So, in that case, Arizona’s ESA, obviously very empowering when it comes to flexibility. Unlike voucher programs, which you can only use for private school tuition, ESA funds can be used for tuition, tutoring, homeschool curricula, online learning, educational therapy. And you can rollover the funds from year-to-year to save for future expenses.

So, it’s also a publicly-funded program, and it’s not by appropriation. So you don’t have to go back to the legislature each year asking for money. It is something that is in state statute with a formula a 90% of the state portion, which also in terms of the purchasing power, that’s about as close as you can get, 90% of the state portion.

Arizona also has something… This is a little bit outside of the program itself, but in a lot of states, when you’ve got students that enter school that have special needs, the financial burden is put on that individual school or school district to take care of it. In Arizona, the majority of funds for students with special needs come from the state that makes it a lot easier for these public schools that have a student that shows up that has very expensive needs to be able to provide the services that child needs without adequately affecting their budget. But also, when that family says our student’s needs are best met elsewhere when 90% of those funds are following the child out the door, it really empowers that family to choose because in some states, you may have a school choice program, but they’re only getting $5,000. And this is a student who may have multiple disabilities that costs $20,000.
But in Arizona, if that student is getting $20,000 from the state at a public school, then they’re going to get 90% of that and to go somewhere else. So it’s a very empowering program, and that’s why it wins. But maybe Mike Shaw can tell us about this year’s runner-up.

Mike Shaw: Yeah, Jason. So, EdChoice as an organization obviously is in favor of education savings accounts like Arizona’s, and there are other ESA programs out there— including Florida’s, Mississippi’s, North Carolina’s, Tennessee’s. All of those are kind of gauged more toward special needs students exclusively, or at least in large part. And all of them interestingly had a decent enrollment bump in the past year. What might set Arizona is a part at least in terms of the data, in terms of empowerment to the most possible families is, one, it has a broader eligibility base, but two, in the past year, especially as the nature of education has changed significantly here’s as ESA grew like wildfire, by most metrics you can gather there’s well, over 10,000 students who’ve used the funding in one way, shape or form for the school year based off trend lines.

I would not be surprised if it eclipses 11,000 students for this spring semester. And that’s just kind of a huge way since the time of the program being wedged, slated, and litigated, as I’m sure Leslie can touch on. And with it just having a little over 7,000 students just a couple of years ago.

Jennifer Wagner: Awesome. Well, I think we’ve talked a lot about Arizona’s ESA. It’s worth noting, as you did, Mike, that ESA is our preferred policy design because it has such flexibility because it has so much potential to empower families to spend the public funds that are set aside for their student in the best way that they deemed possible. So worth noting that Arizona’s ESA also won our Most Well-Rounded Policy category, but you both might want to talk about the runners up there were Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, which is our voucher program here in the state where we’re located, and also Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship Program. So those are both runners-up in our Most Well-Rounded Policy Category.

Jason Bedrick: Yeah. Well, look, raise a glass to educational freedom in Arizona for winning the trifecta. Other states, I should note just, we also track legislation at EdChoice, and there are a bunch of bills that would create school choice or educational choice programs around the country this year that will be giving Arizona a run for its money. So next year, tune in because we may have a wider diversity of winners. In this category, we look at eligibility guaranteed funding and flexibility, so it’s similar to the other category, but this one has a heavy focus on eligibility. And of course, Arizona so far has the ESA with the largest eligibility, but Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program and Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarship Program, both of which are vouchers, also do have a very high eligibility, and maybe Mike can give us some more details on how those work.

Mike Shaw: Yeah, they’re both kind of similar programs in that they are primarily means-tested income-based as a primary eligibility driver. The implementation and obviously just the duration of the programs are a little bit different. Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program it’s really purely a state-run program. The funding is largely based off of would receive in his or her school district. And it’s at a mainstay in Indiana for a number of years, but the exponential growth has necessarily been there the last few. So I know there’s discussions about whether the burden can be changed for it to grow quicker.

First: Family Empowerment Scholarship, though. I’m excited about watching this program in particular because it was really just launched a couple of years ago as a legislative fix to the state’s tax credit scholarship. It just had an overwhelming waiting list, even though it was still means-tested, and not a majority of students in it couldn’t qualify. And they’ve just been able to fill that program to the brim. It has an automatic escalator, which is helpful in growing a program where there’s potential oversubscription. I think interestingly to distinguish it a bit from Indiana voucher. It’s primarily administered through the nonprofit scholarship granting organization that all surround tax-credit scholarship there in Florida.

So I’ve just been really impressed by the group is called step up for students. I’ve been really impressed with how they’ve administered the new program, and it kind of just incorporated it seamlessly in their portfolio programs.
Jennifer Wagner: And again, to reiterate that both Florida and Indiana are among that bevy of states we’ll be watching closely this year and working to expand and potentially pass new programs. So a lot of exciting stuff going on there, Mike. I want to turn to you on this next one because I know you’ve been tracking the Puerto Rico Free School Selection Program since it was started. And that is our winner this year in the Most Popular category, which attracts the biggest percentage of growth in participation.

Mike Shaw: Yeah, I mean, it is someone who attracts some of the more anterior jurisdictions of school choice legislation. I’d been mentioned D.C earlier and tracking what’s been going on in Puerto Rico for a while now. And it was good to see its second year of its bachelor program that has a lot of drama surrounding it, needless to say, but they did have a significant enrollment boost in its second year by some measures growing over 500%, enrolling more than 2,000 students for the 2021 school year. I will note that those figures are kind of influx just with the nature of everything that’s been going on down there, but it, by far, added a significant boost for its second year.

We as an organization, I think it is important to note that the program is capped at a percentage of the overall island enrollment, which due to economic and environmental disaster reasons is influx a lot of that number is in flux. However, the department of education there has the authority and has in its first two years kind of cut down that cap to, I guess, to manage the growth a little bit more even so though with just 2,500 students authorized to use the program this past year, just because the demand is strong in Puerto Rico. And because the department there, I think, has done a fantastic job of marketing and getting the word out about the program, you did see significant growth there.

Jason Bedrick: Mike, that’s great. And then Puerto Rico deserves a lot of credit for an incredible amount of growth this past year. Of course, we at EdChoice will never be satisfied until we have every single child having access to educational choice, but along the way, we really do need to celebrate those states that are continuing to make that progress. So, Florida’s Family Empowerment Scholarships basically doubled over the past year. So that’s very impressive. Tennessee’s individualized education account program grew by 85% over the last year, and Wisconsin special needs program grew by 31% over the last year. So congratulations to all those states for growing their programs.

Jennifer Wagner: Yeah, absolutely, Jason, and we’re going to move on from Most Popular to Most Improved. And then we are actually going to let Leslie talk about legal challenges and setbacks because obviously, the first part of this is all data-driven and state-based, and it would let her expertise shine momentarily. But the Most Improved winner this year is Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. And this is the program that has the biggest student eligibility expansion over the past year. So this program grew by 5% in terms of eligibility. And I’ll throw it to you guys to talk about that. And then also our two runners-up.

Mike Shaw: Yeah. So this category, it’s certainly data-driven, but there’s some subjectivity, and is just based off of the way we conduct these calculations and kind of just choose factors. Pennsylvania’s EITC is an interesting program in that it has a number of different means-testing categories, including depending on the needs of the child, whether he or she is in a disadvantaged school district or has certain degrees of special needs that make various income professionals quite large. It additionally has an inflation factor that, due to economic conditions, might’ve pushed this program to the top in the past year.

The same could be said for South Dakota’s tax-credit scholarship program, which also there was eligibility cruised by three percentage points. And then in Ohio, this was more of a legislative fix or word adjustment from what I could tell and that they had just been pushing in incrementally grade levels for their EdChoice and income-based voucher programs. But within the past year with Governor DeWine there, they fast track that too to make all students eligible. So a lot of significant growth in eligibility and a lot of improved programs in the past year.

Jennifer Wagner: Fantastic. So, hopefully, we’ll have a few more by bigger percentage points when we get to the 2022 superlatives. So we are going to move on to a less positive category, if you will. And these often come to us in the form of the legal challenges that we face because the opponents of school choice, they love to take us to court, not us as a choice, but the different program is that get past the state level. So, Leslie, I’m going to turn it over to you to talk about the unconstitutional ruling down in Tennessee for their Education Savings Account Pilot Program, which was actually more like a voucher, but they called it an ESA. And then talk to us about South Carolina once you’re done with the other state in the South.

Leslie Hiner: Well, Jen, leave it to the lawyer to be Debbie Downer and talk about the challenges to school choice programs. So the biggest setback this year was Tennessee. Tennessee passed the stature. There are so many families in Memphis and Nashville who’ve for many, many years, I mean, at least now 10 or more years, they’ve been clamoring for some choice in education. They go to the statehouse, they talk to their legislators, and they just haven’t gotten much satisfaction at all. But then they did, then suddenly, here’s an opportunity for all those families in Memphis and Nashville. However, leave it to our opponents to say, “Oh, but there’s this obscure part of the Tennessee constitution that maybe we could use to kill this thing.”

So first, they filed a couple of lawsuits, one that had everything in the kitchen sink in it that they could think of to challenge the program. But the legal point that was considered to be the strongest by the lower court by the trial court judge was the home rule provision. In Tennessee, it simply says in their constitution that the legislature cannot target a particular county. So legislators get mad at some county for some reason, or they have some personal vendetta. They can’t pass legislation to override what locals actually want in their own county. But note the wording. The constitution says a particular county. However, the voucher in Tennessee applies to two counties, not one. I think there’s actually some significance to that, but the trial court and the appellate court in Tennessee disagreed and said that now this voucher is not constitutional because it violates this home rule provision.
So currently, their program that all of these parents have been yearning for all these years is on hold pending a decision by the Tennessee Supreme Court on whether or not they want to actually hear this case. If they say they don’t want to hear the case, then the decision of the lower courts will stand, and the voucher will be ruled unconstitutional.

If the Tennessee Supreme Court decides that they do want to hear the case, well, then Katie bar the door, then we’re going to have a lot of arguments in front of that court, but they’ll all revolve around this home rule provision much more so on the actual merits of school choice and why this is an important educational initiative that fits very squarely within the four squares of their Tennessee constitution. So that was really a heartbreaking setback.

I think most people know that we do a lot of work with parents, and we meet a lot of the children who are impacted by these school choice programs. So when something like this happens, you just have to sit down for a minute because it’ll take the wind out of your sails. And then we just fight like hell for these kids. And we’ll continue to do that in this case.

So besides Tennessee. So, there was another one South Carolina’s another one of these states that have a tax-credit scholarship program, but they’ve been working on it for a lot of years to make it bigger, better to really make it work for families and to do something else with school choice opportunities in South Carolina, but they didn’t, they were close. We thought, “Okay, it was going to be South Carolina’s year,” but they didn’t quite make it. And then just to pour salt in the wound, then when they actually passed what was called a safe grants program, which was designed specifically for parents who maybe they weren’t comfortable in sending their kids back to school in private schools, or maybe they didn’t like the remote learning options that were being offered during COVID. This would have given those parents an opportunity to find some other educational options that would work for their kids.

However, let no good deed goes unpunished. And the court in South Carolina ruled that it was a violation of the South Carolina Constitution because money went directly to parents. Then it went directly to schools. I hate to go much further in trying to explain that decision because I really didn’t like it. And it wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever seen. Let’s just say that it was overly broad. And again, for those parents who are so desperate for some kind of options during this COVID mess that parents had been facing, their hopes were dashed. So we felt pretty bad for South Carolina also. Those were two of the biggest setbacks.

Jennifer Wagner: Yeah. And I mean, it is a bit of a Debbie Downer category, so that you get stuck with it every year, but it does put the focus, though, on the recipients, the beneficiaries of these programs, and the people who lose when they get struck down in the court system are our families and students. So maybe we can use that as a transition from the less great news of the biggest setback to the most inspiring winner for 2020. And we debated over this one about whether it should be a program or a person. And we all pretty much landed that the most inspiring story of 2020 was the response of parents and teachers to the pandemic.
I offered this one up as I sit here at my dining room table, which has periodically been a classroom over the last 10 months with an eight-year-old and the other room, still doing remote learning because he had a COVID case in his class last week. And if you are a parent of a school-aged child and you haven’t gotten through this last year, God bless you because it hasn’t been easy. And so I will open it up to everyone, but I know, Jason, you’ve got kiddos at home, and the struggle is real.

Jason Bedrick: It is real. And it’s we don’t have to tell you it’s been a brutal year, especially for families that are trying to raise kids and do work all maybe in cramped living conditions. So there was quite a bit of debate because usually, we’re talking about a program or something, or an advocacy group, but we all agree that if there was one story that just blew us all away this past year, it was the response of parents and teachers to the pandemic. Teachers, often the unsung heroes, having to totally relearn how to manage a class. You may have two decades of experience in classroom management in a physical room, not a lot of that translates to Zoom. They had to completely relearn how to teach. And as Jen, you put it in our blog posts, I mean, essentially, parents and teachers were both building the plane as they flew it.

One part of the story also the role of civil society. It’s how families very quickly came together and found solutions. A part of that story is the rise of micro-schools, or some call them pandemic pods or learning pods, where families were coming together, pooling their resources when their schools were shut down and saying, “We’ll hire a tutor together. Or we’re going to do online learning. And we’re going to take turns, which parents are watching the kids,” finding some way the parents could continue to work but make sure that their kids still had a social life, still had access to quality education and incredibly trying circumstances. Everybody did something different, but I think most people found something that ended up working, even if it hadn’t taken several different tries, so that we all agreed was the most inspiring story of 2020.

Jennifer Wagner: Then hopefully, it will be over soon because it’s 2021, and many of us are still stuck engaging in those same sorts of home learning opportunities without choosing that as our schooling options. So I want to move on to our last few categories here. We only had one new school choice program that came out of 2020, and I mean, new, not an expansion, a brand new program that was Utah’s Special Needs Opportunities Scholarship Program. So we can talk briefly about that before we head back to Leslie for the Biggest Legal Challenge.

Mike Shaw: Yeah. Jen, it’s interesting you made the distinction that it’s a new program and not an expansion because, in a lot of ways, it almost operates like at least a compliment of non-expansion to teach us existing Carson Smith scholarship, but I’m not sure they’ve had for a number of years, but yeah, you saw a launch date, a new tax-credit scholarship. The eligibility criteria are essentially the same as those for Carson Smith, especially to students in various categories. Their scholarship cap weighting is based in large part with how Carson Smith is funded, at least at the maximum. There is some scholarship-granting organization discretion and funding it. And this is a program. It was a tough year in a number of levels. A lot of legislative plans were totally changed come March with the pandemic.

But this is a program that a lot of school choice supporters in Utah have been trying to get off the ground and pass for a number of years. And I think it’s important that it was a tax-credit scholarship program in coming years where more direct forms of funding for school choice programs might be a bit of a legislative battle that’s been test guided scholarship program, where it’s not the direct funding, which I’m sure, again, Leslie, will touch on in a moment regarding some legal challenges, but that might’ve made it more palatable for legislators across the aisle.

Jennifer Wagner: Got it. Well, yeah, I get hopefully 2021 will be a little bit more of a bright spot when it comes to other new programs. So yeah, but turning it back over to Leslie real quick, our biggest legal challenge of last year was the Espinoza case that went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ironically is also our biggest legal challenge, but also a victory of 2020. So that’s great news. I’ll let you talk about that before we get into some honorable mentions that are still ongoing potential challenges for us.

Leslie Hiner: So the hardest part about litigation is I just spoke to regarding Tennessee is the families, the families who are stuck, just waiting, begging for options for their kids. And oftentimes, while litigation is going on, lawyers do get it out in court, and it can take years. The parents are just waiting and hoping and waiting impatiently. But the good news is that we tend to win these cases.

So I’m happy to report that this year, we not only won an important case. We won a giant case. This is a giant landmark U.S. Supreme Court victory for both school choice and also First Amendment, religious liberty and free exercise. In the Montana case, it was very simply this, there were parents, and in Montana, and they had the opportunity to get a scholarship through their tax-credit scholarship program. But the department of revenue which was administering the program said, “Well, they didn’t really think that religious schools should be an option for parents.” And parents said, “No, religious schools should be an option for us.”
So, at the trial court level, Montana won the case, and trial court level lost the case on the Montana Supreme court, but then petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case because it was pretty clear that the ruling of the Montana Supreme Court violated the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And we were right happy to report. Now, the upshot from all this is just the biggest news ever. There are over 30 states across the country that have provisions in their state constitutions that limit how state governments can interact with religious entities and that limit how religious entities can participate in private life. And so, in many states, states that wanted to have school choice programs felt that they were limited by their state constitution, that they could only provide a school choice opportunity if parents wanted to send their kids to a non-religious secular private school.

Now there are schools like that that are good, and that’s fine, but the majority of schools, so are faith-based actually across the country that are private schools. And oftentimes, when parents are looking for an option for their kids, it’s because something’s not working for their kids where they are. And we see a lot of cases where kids are bullied, and they need to go to a safe place. Faith-Based schools often present that kind of an opportunity for kids and for families that’s very welcome.

Well, now the U.S. Supreme Court said, “You’re good to go.” The court simply said that a state that has a school choice program cannot prohibit parents from choosing a faith-based school for their children. And it comes down to this, that the states in the state constitution, religious schools were excluded just because they were religious. That is a gross violation of the First Amendment. It is grossly discriminatory, and the U.S. Supreme Court said that in their ruling.

So this means that now you’ll see many states across the country who will suddenly have new opportunities to provide new school choice options for parents. So it’s very exciting. This case is just as big as the Cleveland voucher decision, which was the Zelman decision that was back in 2002 that the U.S. Supreme Court said vouchers were constitutional. It’s just as big as the wind case out of Arizona. Our favorite state to talk about today is saying that tax credit scholarship programs are constitutional. This was a really big one, and we just couldn’t be happier.

The parents in Montana said after the ruling, “This means everything.” It means everything for their families. So we’re all celebrating that. Now, so that’s a challenge we won, and we have a couple of others. So this is one of the honorable mentions get in. So Maine, the state of Maine, had one of the nation’s first voucher programs called a Town Tuitioning Program. And that program started in 1873. So for 109 years, from 1873 to 1982, parents could choose religious schools for their kids. But then there was an overly zealous attorney general who convinced some legislators, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s not really constitutional.” And they’ve been fighting over that for many years.

Well, now parents brought the case in federal courts, lost at the trial court, recently lost at the first circuit court of appeals. And now, the big challenge will be for parents who will be asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take their case. We believe that in light of the Espinoza decision by the U.S. Supreme Court this past year, that there’s some likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case out of Maine. That should be a pretty exciting challenge. And let’s hope we win for those parents.

Now, there are two others. One is Bethel Ministries v. Salmon that’s in Maryland. Also, in federal court. That’s an issue where there were some religious schools that were excluded from their voucher program, which has been very successful in Maryland, much to their credit and scrolling. But the schools were excluded because of their stated views, their stated religious views on marriage and gender, which do not align with the state’s SOGI laws. However, these schools didn’t actually violate any laws, but it’s going to be an interesting case. You can look for that to go to trial this year. So that’ll be an interesting new challenge.
Then, of course, there South Carolina, once again, that litigation over the safe grants program, where they attempted to use federal funding to help parents during COVID. The biggest problem with that case now going forward is that it will present some challenges for program design for school choice programs in the future. So we expect some more legal challenges there, but we’re up to the challenge, and we’re going to fight for parents.

Jennifer Wagner: Yep. Keeps you busy. And our Legal Defense and Education Center keeps everybody on their toes. So as we come down, the home stretch here in our annual superlatives podcast. We have two more categories. Both are closely related. The first one is the Most Likely to Expand, and the honors for that one goes to Indiana this year with some runners up—Arizona, Florida and Montana. So, Jason, I don’t know if you want to take that one, but we are feeling pretty bullish here in the Hoosier State.

Jason Bedrick: Yeah. And we may as well, while we’re at it, look also at the Most Likely to Succeed, to pass a bill. So we’re looking at Indiana as probably the most likely to expand its existing program, but really there are… I mean, Florida is doing huge things. They’re actually right now in the process of consolidating their five school choice programs into two school choice programs and expanding those programs. Montana, Leslie was just talking about their tax-credit scholarship. They’re going to be looking at… really, in a way, it’s one of the best-designed tax-credit scholarships in the country. But for one provision that makes it the worst, which is that each donor only gets $150 of tax credits, which means you need like two dozen donors just to get one scholarship, that’s worthwhile. So just taking four or five words out of that law will make it go from one of the worst programs to one of the best.

This past year, the world turns up upside down, but educational choice advocates have been working nonstop to improve and expand options for families. And we are, I have never seen. I’ve been working on educational choice for a decade and a half. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a year where we have had so many bills in so many states that actually have a plausible path to victory. It’s not just the quantity. It’s also the quality.

The legislators are going bigger and bolder than they ever have before. They’re looking at ESAs with the very broad, sometimes universal eligibility. So we think that the number one most likely to succeed this year is New Hampshire, which is looking at what they’re calling education, freedom accounts named for the beloved dearly departed Speaker of the House, Dick Hinch, who this was going to be this year, his signature legislation, he passed away just a week after being sworn in as speaker, but it has the strong support of the new speaker, Sherm Packard, as well as the majority leader and the Senate president, a Senate majority leader, the governor and the education committee chairs in both the House and the Senate.

So that’s why we named New Hampshire the Most Likely to Succeed. But frankly, I mean, it has a very long list of other states where we expect to see significant progress in passing new programs. Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are all states that we are keeping an eye on because they are already, in some cases, moving this legislation. So we are very excited for what 2021 holds for families.

Jennifer Wagner: Couldn’t have said it better. And as we kind of wrap things up here, I want to give Mike and Leslie one last chance if there’s any closing thoughts on this year’s superlatives. And we kind of are the yearbook editors. So, you want to take any ownership or take any umbrage at something that didn’t get in that you thought should have, or just offer some closing thoughts. So we really appreciate your time today.

Mike Shaw: Well, I just say for, for all your vendors out there, if you guys could heavily Photoshop any pictures where I’m included, that would be much obliged, but in all seriousness, that and piggyback off what Jason said. And I haven’t been doing this nearly as long as he has, but there does seem to be a wide degree of hope among especially school choice proponents and advocates, especially in a lot of states where we’re involved in several States like Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, where there’s been school choice for a long time. And it’s just kind of built up a reputation. And to some extent, an established entity. A lot of states and especially ones, were, which I’ve been tracking for a while. And in which I have calls with state partners and people trying to do research in such states, They haven’t had a lot to be excited about until now. And it is just kind of encouraging to see the breadth and also, as Jason said that the quality of some of these proposals.

Jennifer Wagner: Fantastic, Leslie, any closing thoughts from the legal side of things, or also just giving hope to parents who are somewhat downtrodden right now but maybe have a lot to look forward to this year.

Leslie Hiner: I will share, well, first I have to give applaud for the lawyers. All these states that are active right now they have an open door. Banks do a lot of heavy litigating done by actually a lot of lawyers across the country, both local and national. It really takes everybody being willing to just dig in and do what’s right for families also that applies in the legal community as well. But it is an exciting time because so many doors are open, but I have to say, if you look at everything that we’ve just talked about, it seems to me that there is one theme that’s real constant.

That’s simply this, that when parents have plenty of options for their kids, when they have all kinds of educational opportunities for their kids, and they know that maybe the educational opportunity of today that their child needs, well, maybe in a couple of years, the child will need something else, but that’s okay because the parent will be able to choose something else in a couple of years, whatever the child needs, that kind of opportunity for families, it just lifts people up and consider that for everyone listening, who is a parent, you hope, you pray, you want your kids to do their best, to do well, have the best shot at life than they could ever possibly imagine, whatever that is, whatever you can do, but it starts with education.

So for parents who have that opportunity to be able to help their kids in this way, that makes for a happy home, happy kids, happy families. And then one day, these kids will be successful, happy adults. And that kind of joy is what this is really all about.

Jennifer Wagner: Absolutely. And yeah, I think there’s so much left that we have to fight for, especially on the legal side. You do all the fighting for us. And then we’ve got a great advocacy team. We got Jason and Mike involved in those efforts. And I think on behalf of all three of you, I just want to say thanks to everyone for tuning in today for… I know this is one of our longer podcasts, usually clocks in around an hour. If you’re listening to us on a platform other than edchoice.org, please visit our website, explore other resources, learn more about our advocacy, training, legal work, and state work, and whatever you can do to help, whether it’s just writing a letter to the editor, or if you’re a policymaker, get in touch with Jason and Leslie to make sure you’re policy-making in a legal way. We are here to be a resource to you as you pursue educational freedom and opportunity for your own family and for all families across our country.

So on behalf of EdChoice, thanks again for joining us today. And we’ll see you next time.

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