Ep. 316: Monthly State Update — April 2022

April 21, 2022

Jason Bedrick welcomes Joey Magana to the team and Jordan Zachary also joins the show to discuss some state updates.

Jason Bedrick: Hello. Welcome back to EdChoice Chats. I’m Jason Bedrick, director of policy, and this is another of our Monthly State Updates. I have some news. You may have heard already, this was going to be my last of the EdChoice Chats as host. I am going to be heading over to the Heritage Foundation as a research fellow. But I am very happy to be passing the baton along to Joey Magana, who is EdChoice’s incoming vice president of policy and advocacy. So, welcome to the team.

Joey Magana: Thank you. Very glad to be here. I am excited to be working on school choice. It’s been a personal passion of mine ever since, actually, high school. My kind of personal story is that, moved to Arkansas from Dallas, Texas when I was about 10 years old. Went into junior high into the local public school. A little baggy of green stuff was being passed across the classroom.

Jason Bedrick: Broccoli? The kids were using broccoli?

Joey Magana: No. So when it was time for me to pass the bag of green stuff, I turned to my friend next to me, and I was like, “What the heck was that?” Because I had no idea. And he’s like, “Dude, that was pot.” And I’m like, “Oh, great.” So then I go home and say, “Hey, mom, guess what?” So she decided, like, “I’ve got to get this kid out of public school and out of a bad situation.” She was a single mom at the time. So my grandparents kind of stepped up, came out of retirement. Got a part-time job, and took me out and went to a private school. Not every family has those options. So I’m just glad to be in the movement and helping.

Jason Bedrick: Well, great. It’s wonderful to have you on the team. We’re only going to overlap for a little bit, but it is very exciting. And I think it speaks well about the future here at EdChoice. We are also joined by my colleague, one of our State’s directors, Jordan Zachary.

Jordan Zachary: Hey, Jason.

Jason Bedrick: Jordan, we’ll go back to you in a minute. I know you’ve got some exciting updates for us. But first I wanted to ask Joey about what has been going on in Oklahoma, which has been the most ambitious state this year. They were going for a universal ESA. They wanted even to top West Virginia. So a lot of attention has been paid to Oklahoma, but what’s been going on there recently?

Joey Magana: Yeah. I live in Oklahoma City. Been there almost 20 years. Yeah, the Senate president, Greg Treat, has always been a big believer in school choice. So he decided that now is the time. He wasn’t going to wait. He didn’t think parents could wait. So he filed Senate Bill 1647, full universal bill. Went through the process of the education committee and appropriations committee. Some minor changes to the bill as it went along. Hit the floor, vote was held open for over two hours, I think. It broke a state record for having a vote open. Just trying to wrangle votes. I mean, legislators are obviously a little skittish when it comes to these big, bold things. We all tried to press them in the coalition as hard as we could. Just couldn’t get the last two votes. So the bill did die on the Senate side. However, I think we still have some life left. I think there’ll be a budget play. A lot of times things get stuck in the state budget that they want to get across. The governor is a huge champion of school choice. He really wants to see it get done. And the Senate president has vowed that he’s going to get it done as well. So, still have life left, but a little bit of a hiccup.

Jason Bedrick: As we know from The Princess Bride, when something is mostly dead, that means it is still somewhat alive.

Joey Magana: That’s right. That’s right.

Jason Bedrick: So there is some life left in Oklahoma. Of course, though, a lot more life left in Iowa. Jordan’s got some good news for us. What’s been going on in Iowa?

Jordan Zachary: Well, we have a great school choice proposal in Iowa that is still alive, as you mentioned. Senate file 2369, that is an ESA proposal. That ESA proposal would see up to 10,000 Education Savings Accounts funded in Iowa. Students who would be eligible would be ones in households with income under 400% of the federal poverty level, and students who also have IEPs. Just a little bit of background, this proposal is part of Governor Kim Reynolds’s bill. This bill has already moved through the Senate floor and passed successfully with a vote count of 31 to 18. It has, as I mentioned, support from the governor, the Senate, and we are working on the House. Our advocates there from several organizations have been really burning that midnight oil. It’s looking like this program has a very legitimate chance of being Iowa’s first publicly funded school choice program. I also have a couple other states to touch upon. One of my favorites, New Hampshire. Shout out to all my friends there who’ve been working on the issue, Kate, Sarah, Theresa, Glen, you know who you are, and of course, Jason Bedrick. Our policy director is a native and former legislator from New Hampshire.

Jason Bedrick: Live free or die.

Jordan Zachary: Exactly. So this year we spent a lot of time protecting the Education Freedom Account program. And then we have some great news about their tax credit. Go ahead, Jason.

Jason Bedrick: What do you mean by protecting the program? What dangers was it facing?

Jordan Zachary: The term we’ve been using is death by a thousand cuts. Many, many pieces of legislation attempting to defund the program, affect eligibility, make it difficult for private schools to accept students who have EFA accounts. All types of different issues, different types of legislation had been filed that would just make this program more difficult to access for students and for families.

Jason Bedrick: Just to clarify for our listeners. Earlier you were saying ESA, the Education Savings Account that our listeners are familiar with, now you’re saying EFA. What’s that acronym?

Jordan Zachary: Well, that’s a good point. That’s Education Freedom Accounts, because our friends in New Hampshire love freedom. So, with that, we also had a great happening. We have a piece of legislation, House Bill 1298, which would increase the eligibility for the Tax Credit Scholarship program. The Tax Credit Scholarship program in New Hampshire currently has an eligibility for students living in households of 300% of the federal poverty and below. But with this piece of legislation, it would see that income limit increase to 500% of the federal poverty level. This piece of legislation is already passed through the house by a vote count of 159 to 152. Yes, you heard that right. New Hampshire has a 400 person house of representatives. The next step is that this piece of legislation is going to move to the Senate. In a very short amount of time, it’ll have a hearing in the Senate Education Committee, where it will then look forward to moving to the floor. One last minor update, but still very important, our great friends in Pennsylvania have been working really hard on an Education Savings Account program. This proposal would see the accounts called Lifeline Scholarships. They would be available to military households, students with Individualized Education Plans, and also in what they define as low-achieving school districts. This piece of legislation recently passed the Pennsylvania House Education Committee by a vote of 10 to four. Its next steps will be a floor vote in the House. With that, I know Jason also has a couple state updates he would like to mention.

Jason Bedrick: One is that we want to talk actually about Georgia. Georgia, earlier this year, had an Education Savings Account bill everyone was excited about. There was a very unfortunate controversy there about a flyer that the speaker really didn’t like. Although, many, myself included, believe that was more of a pretext. These flyers are not uncommon. But the speaker decided that he was going to unilaterally kill the ESA bill. But the school choice advocates did not give up. And we did succeed last week in getting both the House and the Senate to adopt House Bill 517, which increases Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship credit cap by $20 million. It was $100 million, now it’s going up to $120 million, which means that potentially about 4,000 additional students can receive scholarships next year. The bill also removed the sunset provision that would’ve automatically terminated the program after a certain period of time. And they raised the cap on donations. They actually doubled the cap on donations. For individual and corporate contributors, it’s going to make it a lot easier for them to donate, and therefore a lot easier for the scholarship organizations to raise the funds to fund these scholarships. So there is still a lot of updates this year. For those listeners that have been listening for the last year, they know that 2021 was the biggest year the school choice movement ever had. Obviously this year is not going to be as big as last year. Usually in an election year, that is the case. You’ve got a number of legislatures that are not even in session. Some that have shorter sessions. And of course, in an election year, usually not as much gets done as legislators don’t want to do anything that might be perceived as controversial, and they’re focusing on getting themselves reelected. But that said, if you actually look at the historical trends of where we are this year relative to previous election years, this still is a pretty big year for the educational choice movement. We’re making a lot of progress. I expect that 2023 could potentially even rival 2021. So, still looking forward to great things from the educational choice movement in the future.

Jordan Zachary: Absolutely, Jason. As we wrap up, just make sure that you guys tune in to our State Update podcast. I’m hoping next time we see you we have news of an ESA being signed into law in Iowa. I just want to wrap this up. I want to say thank you to Jason for his amazing work at EdChoice. He’s still going to be in the school choice world. So check out his Twitter, tune into him. He always has great updates. And then, I’m really glad that, like Jason mentioned, we have a awesome new State team leader in Joey. Make sure to tune into the podcast to hear about all the great work that he’s going to be doing with our team. Until next time everyone.