Ep. 309: Monthly State Update — March 2022

March 11, 2022

March edition of the Monthly State Debrief Podcast with EdChoice and the State Team. We talk about the movement in school choice as well as upheaval in the legislatures around the country over the past 30 days.

Robert: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Monthly State Debrief Podcast with EdChoice and the State Team at EdChoice. We’re here to talk about all the movement on school choice in the last 30 or so days. There’s been lots of movement and lots of things going back and forth and lots of upheaval in the legislatures around the country. We’re joined by Ed Tarnowski in our office and Jordan Zachary and our other state team members are off and about trying to save the world for school choice. Let’s just go ahead and start, Jordan, with your states and the states you’re working on and the states you’re hearing about Arizona, New Hampshire, and all the ones you work in.

Jordan Zachary: Yeah. I guess the major state I want to talk about today, Robert, is Iowa. Iowa, there’s some magical things happening. There’s been a push for an education savings account proposal known as student first scholarships and wouldn’t you bet this proposal is moving through both chambers of the legislature there. This proposal is just real quick really what it does is it’s allowing an ESA for families and households making at or below 400% of the federal poverty level. We’re looking at a proposal that would let scholarships be around $5,200. Additionally, this is going to be open to families with IEPs and special needs. We’ve seen so much support on the ground and in the legislature this year behind this. The senate version of this bill has already passed the full senate education committee and just this week passed the full senate appropriations committee. It’s getting ready for a floor vote. It’s really been wonderful to see the response from legislators this year and it’s piggybacking off the momentum built last year when Iowa passed an ESA through their senate for the first time ever. The house has always been a little bit tricky there, but legislators are really pumped up and next week or so we should see a hearing on the appropriations committee over the house companion bill. Iowa’s in a good spot and our partners there have been doing a wonderful job advocating on this issue and educating the public.

Robert: Jordan, that’s great to hear about Iowa and I think it’s a really good testament to what happens when you have local partnerships over time building relationships and educating the public. It’s the theory [inaudible 00:02:24] EdChoice has been using for a long time to get in there in the states we work in build these relationships and work towards broad understanding, a broad education, a broad policy. We’re really hoping that Iowa leads the way like West Virginia led the way last year and like New Hampshire the year before, all these states like Nevada led the way, all these states where EdChoice has been in there with a theory of action, that’s going you build long term, you build long time, you build partnerships and you don’t ever give up. I think that’s important and hopefully Iowa will lead the way and will stop what’s been going on. I don’t know for those on the podcast will know there’s been just lots of upheaval in some states this year, which we’ll talk about at some point. Those states that are on the cusp are the ones where EdChoice has been in the longest working the hardest. I think that’s an important point to make from EdChoice’s perspective. Jordan, go back to your states, tell me more.

Jordan Zachary: We mentioned Iowa. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Arizona. It’s not my state, but our colleague, Jason Bedrick, insisted that I bring it up on this podcast. Just a little bit of an update, the Senate in Arizona passed a bill that would further expand eligibility for the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account Program, which is an education savings account. It would further grow eligibility for low income families and for the children of military veterans, first responders, and healthcare workers. The bill itself will also make sure to work on several technical improvements that will make the ESA easier to access for families and easier for them to use as well. Also, there’s been a bill to expand Lexi’s Law for disabled and displaced students, which is a tax credit scholarship policy and this proposal would also increase the available tax credits by $4 million over the next two years and put in place an automatic escalator. If you know anything about the history of Arizona and school choice there, they’ve had programs in place and they’ve been very successful over the years at chipping and continuing to grow and expand eligibility and access for students. When we see things like this, it’s always terrific news. The last state I really want to cover is New Hampshire. Without going into too many of the bills because there’s a lot of them, there’s been several bills that have aimed to kind of prick holes in the Education Freedom Account Program that our local partners worked so hard for last year to get into law. What I can say about this is that our team there, our friends there, they have been working so hard to work with legislators to make sure that these pieces of legislation don’t move. We’ve been in a really good spot this year. We’re in a good position to end this legislative session keeping the program fully intact and then to really focus on outreach and getting students signed up and making families aware of the Education Freedom Account Program in New Hampshire.

Robert: In fact, Jordan, New Hampshire’s sign up was one of the fastest in the country ever. Again, another proof that you build good partners and that’s what actually can work on the ground. We’re excited to work with our partners there and how they’re getting things up and running as quick as possible. We’re really thrilled how fast and how far they’re moving and how they’re able to stop bad policy. Also, the Arizona thing is very interesting. For those of you don’t know on this podcast, we track something called the EdChoice Share, which was basically the percentage of people in a state who are not choosing their assigned school, who are choosing something other than their assigned school. Arizona has the largest EdChoice share with its charter sector, its private school choice sector, its homeschooling sector and its cross district public sector. Basically, we’re looking at these states over time that have gotten market share penetration of around 20% and so that’s really good. Indiana’s around that, too. That’s not even including magnet schools and so beginning to see many more market share penetrations in the states where we’ve worked really a long time to make sure that we get real long term and long lasting policy. That’s really good. Well, let’s turn to the other hopeful states that we’ve been working on this year and a real opportunity here in Oklahoma and there’s also some news in South Dakota and then we’ll wrap up with Georgia, West Virginia. Ed, why don’t you talk about Oklahoma and South Dakota for us?

Ed Tarnowski: Yeah, absolutely. Our colleague, Jason Bedrick is doing some excellent work in the states of Oklahoma and South Dakota. In signing an expansion for the state’s tax credit scholarship program this year, South Dakota became the first state to pass a successful educational choice program. Over in Oklahoma, we’re looking at some great success over there as well so far in the process. Oklahoma, for those who don’t know, has an universal education savings account program that just passed the state’s senate, so that’s something to keep an eye on.

Robert: Great thing about Oklahoma is that we’ve made progress there and it looks to me like there’s a broad bill that both the governor and the senate are really interested in getting. The hope is that the house will be encouraged to hear and support this as well. I know there’s been lots and back and forth and lots of people pushing folks in the state house to get them to sign on for as big a policy as possible. It’s exciting to see steps in the right direction in a state like Oklahoma. What we’re also seeing steps in the right are let’s take a look for example at West Virginia. They actually started taking applications for the state’s near universal ESA program. That’s pretty amazing that that’s actually started. The other state that passed something so far is Georgia. Georgia has looking to pass double its size of its tax credit scholarship program, which is fantastic news. It’s headed the right direction. We’re really pleased about that. How do we go forward? How do we keep going forward? How do we keep moving on? That’s what we do here and it’s been an interesting year for places around the country. We’ve had some misses in places like Idaho and had some wins in places like Arizona now and South Dakota and hopefully Oklahoma and Georgia. We’re looking forward to having the jewel in the crown. Hopefully, it’ll be Iowa and Oklahoma this year. That’s a great roundup, guys. I really appreciate it. For all those of you who want to hear more and keep up with this podcast, keep joining us on our Monthly State Debrief Podcast for EdChoice and the EdChoice State Team. Thank you very much. You can all always find us at edchoice.org and all of the various platforms that every organization has like ours. Have a great day. Thanks very much.