Ep. 300: Monthly State Update — February 2022

February 18, 2022

Robert Enlow, Jordan Zachary, Jason Bedrick, Lauren Hodge and Ed Tarnowski talk a little bit about what’s going on in the states right now.

Robert Enlow: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the year’s first monthly state debrief. 2021 was the year of educational choice. What an amazing year it was. 19 states passed a number of bills, seven states passed new bills, 15 states expanded 23 programs. So basically 19 states, I think, passed 29 either new or expanded programs, what an incredible year 2021 was. And usually after that 2022, it starts off well, not much going to happen, particularly in election years. We think maybe the issue won’t go forward. People are a bit worried about it. That’s not the case this year. And the dam that seemed to have been broken by West Virginia in 2021, and New Hampshire the work that we did in New Hampshire and others did in New Hampshire. This work is looking to really cascade forward. And so I’m joined by the state team at EdChoice, Jordan Zachary, Jason Bedrick, Lauren Hodge and Ed Tarnowski. And we’re going to talk a little bit about what’s going on in the states right now. So why don’t we start this way. Jason Bedrick in your opinion, what state is most likely to succeed in 2022? And what are they working on?

Jason Bedrick: Thank you, Robert. In our recent superlatives blog every year we put out our EdChoice yearbook talking about what happened last year, what we’re looking forward to this year. We picked Oklahoma. And I think that it still is the most likely to succeed. Governor Kevin Stitt has been very supportive publicly of the bill. It’s being sponsored by Senator Treat, who is the president of the Oklahoma Senate. And there just seems to be lots of energy. They are working on a universal education savings account. They’re calling them Oklahoma empowerment accounts or OEAs, and we are very excited. We still think that it’s the most likely to succeed.

Robert Enlow: So Oklahoma, the Sooner State might come sooner rather than later to the school choice debate. That’s awesome. I’d love to hear what other states you think are going to go on and let’s move over to Jordan and talk about some of his states that he is working on, what he think is most likely to succeed from his states.

Jordan Zachary: Yeah, Robert, well, I think the state of Iowa is in peak position to pass a program this year. Just a quick little backstory. Last year Iowa saw an ESA proposal pass out of the full Senate chamber, and that was the furthest a proposal has ever advanced. So let’s fast forward to today and they’re building off that momentum. Governor Reynolds is all in on school choice. Last year she saw open enrollment have a success. She also saw an expansion of charter schools in the state, and now she is focused on education savings accounts. As part of her education bill that she’s put forward this year, we see the student first scholarship program. So this student first scholarship program is an education savings account proposal for students under 400% of the federal poverty level. Please do keep in mind it’s capped at 10,000 students. But this is still a rather robust program for the state of Iowa. And there’s so much momentum right now. Parents have been mobilized. Legislators are excited. We are seeing more legislators excited about ESAs than we’ve ever seen. And that’s both in the House or Senate. So keep an eye on Iowa going forward this year, they are really working hard to support students and support educational choice.

Robert Enlow: It would be great to have Iowa finally joined a big school choice family. They’ve been a school choice member for a long time. If like one of the earliest private tax credit programs was Iowa back in 1987. And then they have the scholarship tax credit bill. So it’d be nice to see them to really take the next step in education reform and transformation. So that’s exciting to see, glad to hear. And we’re excited about the other states. Lauren, what do you think about your states? What states do you think will actually come up, and bubble up to a potential success and then for the whole team, what do you think is going to be the first big win of the year?

Lauren Hodge: Well, I think an interesting state certainly for us to be looking at is Alabama. So for those of you who are in the south, you know that Alabama’s tried variety of school choice programs over the years. But they really put forward what is an exceptionally robust proposal. So that was actually voted out of the Senate committee this past week and is headed on to the full Senate floor. If passed it would be an exceptionally robust program that would be nearly universal and provide essentially 100% of that state aid per pupil for children. And that way, children have access to a whole host of educational options. As the program that they’re considering is an education savings account. So that would be including things like tuition, but also things like curricula, things like fees, things like tutoring, things like transportation. Those types of additional educational expenditures. So, it’s an interesting play. We’ll see if it gets some momentum behind it, but it certainly is a fantastic proposal put forth. We’re excited to see where it goes. And we’ll be watching it closely. I think, to answer your second question there, Robert, about what’s the first one of the year, I think that has to go back over to Jason.

Jason Bedrick: Yeah, well the first one of the year looks like it’s going to be South Dakota. Now we didn’t make this our most likely to succeed first because it surprised us, but also because it’s a much more modest bill than we’re seeing in a lot of states. This is to expand the partners in tax credit scholarship policy, increasing the total available tax credits from 2 million to 3.5 million. Also adding students in foster care. So there’s both an increase in eligibility and in funding. That has already passed both chambers and is headed to the desk of governor Kristi Noem. So it’s a modest improvement, but an improvement nonetheless. And it will be most likely the first of the year.

Robert Enlow: So you’re saying South Dakota will be the first of the year?

Jason Bedrick: That’s correct.

Robert Enlow: Interesting. That’s great. That’s good to hear that we’re seeing movement even in Western states like that. That’s great. The move here next is to see how educational choice, not school choice. I mean, I think one of the things we need to talk about is we keep going forward as an organization is this is no longer about school choice. It’s not about school type. It’s not about whether you go to a public private or charter school, we’re agnostic toward these decisions. It’s actually about how do we give more opportunities? How do we build a platform for families that works best for what families and children need, not for what adults need? And I certainly think that is where we are headed in this movement. And I think that will certainly allow states like South Dakota and some of the more rural ones, even like Iowa and Alabama and others to come on board. I’d like to Ed Tarnowski to our first podcast of the year. Ed joined the state team here and Ed’s in charge of tracking all the other states that we have that we’re not working in depth in. And so Ed, talk a little bit about some of the states that you’ve been looking at and what’s the overall picture of numbers.

Ed Tarnowski: Yeah, absolutely. Some of the states that have stuck out to me the most just on language of bills, so have been Colorado and Washington state. They do have some interesting bills that are fairly expansive, especially in states that don’t have a lot of school choice or educational choice. It’s interesting to see legislators get excited about educational choice regardless of them not having programs prior. And I think it’s going to be really interesting to watch how things go going forward in some of these states that people don’t necessarily look at as much, but the momentum is still there especially among parents and a lot of legislators.

Robert Enlow: So how many total bills are there and how many states, what do you see going on?

Ed Tarnowski: So there are more than 50 bills in 32 states. That is a lot. I mean this is an election year. So to see lots of bills to continuing to be introduced, regardless of that. I think that’s interesting to watch. And I think it shows a lot of momentum.

Robert Enlow: I think there is a lot of momentum for the issue of educational choice and educational opportunity. And as an organization, one of the things that I would say about our state team and our state work and our work in general, that I think is important to share with everyone, is that we’ve always tried right to stay above the fray of all the debates and fights and just focus on the dang work that’s ahead. And we have done that. And this year’s another evidence of how we are doing that and how, what we care about and our customers or parents. And parents are the ones we put first because we know they need more options, whether they are in urban areas, suburban areas, rural areas, any area. So there’s just lots of movement going on. And as we come to the conclusion of our first monthly debrief, I would be very interested to see if there’s any other states that you guys have on your radar screen and any other things that you think we need to do to make sure we maximize the success for school choice.

Jason Bedrick:

One state that I’m looking at right now is Georgia. They’ve got two bills, the main bill is HB 999. It is a bipartisan bill to create universal education savings accounts. They had a hearing just last week, that went very well. All. I think if anybody was watching it, if you were a supporter, you were very pleased with the way that the testimony went. And there is another bill that is already starting to move. It’s also an ESA. It’s not nearly as expansive, but it is for students from low income families, students with special needs. Students are in the foster care system, children of active duty military personnel. And there are a few other categories of students. So it’s fairly expansive, if it were in law today would actually be the second, most expansive behind West Virginia. And that bill has already been approved by the committee and is moving forward. So we are already starting to see movement. Likewise in Kansas, there was a hearing already for a bill for an ESA for low and middle income families and students with special needs. And I’ve also got my eye in a few other states. Idaho, Utah, Illinois has a bipartisan bill to make their tax credit scholarship permanent. Right now it’s facing a sunset clause. There are, I think, more than 10,000 students that are currently benefiting who are in jeopardy of losing their scholarships. So there is a lot of exciting progress to be made this year, but I’ll turn it over to Jordan to answer Robert’s question.

Jordan Zachary: I just think it’s important this year, while we have so much momentum through all the states you mentioned Jason, that we remember that one of the reasons we care about educational choice for our students is understanding that we all approach this from a different angle and we all have different reasons and different stories for wanting to be a part of this movement. So as we move forward, we have to make sure that we’re all on one team and we’re working together. And understanding we’re working maybe for different reasons, but the ultimate goal is educational choice and for all families and all students.

Robert Enlow: That’s exactly right. Our goal is more opportunity, more options. And as you all have heard me say until we change the structure and nature of how we deliver education, we will continue to see structural and stratification of society, structural imbalance and stratification of society. That has always been my favorite Milton Friedman quote, which was the tragedy and irony is that the very system dedicated to bringing about a common set of values, acquiring a common set of understanding and a minimum degree of learning, that’s all paraphrased should in fact, and this is a direct quote, “Should in fact, exacerbate the stratification and inequalities in society.” And so I think our goal here is to reduce that by giving families more options. And I think that’s where we’re at. So what a great start to the year we look forward to being at our next monthly state debrief podcast at the beginning of March to share with you where things have gone since then. So with that, thank you very much and goodbye.