Ep. 319: Monthly State Update – May 2022

May 13, 2022

Lauren Hodge gives us an update on legislation in South Carolina.

Jordan:  Hello, everyone. Welcome to another edition of EdChoice’s State Team podcast, where we update you on all the action that’s been happening throughout the states during legislative sessions. Now, we are getting towards the end of most sessions. So things slowed down a bit, but we’re still working on a couple pieces of legislation, a couple efforts that our partners are still involved in and we’d love to update you today. So I want to go ahead and start by turning to Lauren Hodge, a longtime FSI member and a new legal team member. She is still doing some great work in South Carolina. Lauren, can you give us an update out of South Carolina? 

Lauren Hodge: Absolutely. So for those of you who have followed the South Carolina saga, I will call it over the last few years. You know that South Carolina has had numerous attempts at passing some forms of school choice, really for the greater part of the past five years, that’s ranged the gambit from tax credit scholarship expansions to education savings accounts. So for those that have kind of watched this past session, you know that South Carolina does two year sessions. So this is the second year of that session, the final year. So there were basically two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, the Senate bill made crossover before the deadline. So the Senate version, it was up for consideration in the House. Recently the House took up that in subcommittee of Ways and Means, and they did a strike and insert of the old House bill into the Senate version. So for those that are listening, it looks like a pretty small bill with very limited eligibility, limitations are down to South Carolina public school. The independent schools choose to participate in the program. We’re looking at K-8, I believe is our eligibility. So as we look at eligibility for South Carolina, what they have is for qualifying students are going to have to be between kindergarten and eighth grade enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance or CHIP program. Be Medicaid eligible entering kindergarten, first grade or previously enrolled in a public school during one of the three prior years. So we’re talking about a pretty small population of eligibility instead of K-12. South Carolina’s looking at doing K-8. The program’s also going to be limited to $5,000 to qualifying students versus the Senate version, which was $6,000 with an automatic escalator that if the price per pupil went up in South Carolina, the amount of funding would match that. So the House version of this struck an insert is down to $5,000 per pupil. Finally, the program is limited to a number of participants in the program. The program is limited in the first year of implementation to 5,000 scholarship students, in the second year to 10,000 scholarship students and in all subsequent years to 15,000 scholarship students. So obviously, because we talk about it EdChoice. So the big vision here is universal school choice, the opportunity for every single child to go through and have the opportunity to realize their potential and what that means for EdChoice. What that meant for Milton Friedman is pretty simple, dollars followed every single child and all the dollars followed all the kids. South Carolina certainly fallen pretty short of that ideal. So what they’re looking at doing is a very limited scope in who can apply. They’re looking at a limited number of dollars to those students and they’re looking at the limited number of the eligible students to fund. So it is an ongoing effort in South Carolina, but sadly I think is going to really fall short of the ideal. Certainly while we don’t want perfection to get in the way of progress, part of what happens when these programs are cut down and limited in these ways is that children who need school choice, which is every single child, they just don’t have that opportunity. So we reinforce that only certain children should have access to this. Only certain children should be afforded the opportunities, only certain disabilities or certain problems should be addressed by the school, which in reality isn’t what school choice is about. It’s about putting the child back at the center of education, and when we do that, when we put the child at the center, it’s not about how much money your family makes. It’s not about whether or not you have a disability. It’s not about whether or not there’s the spot at a receiving school or ascending school. What it’s about is finding that right educational fit and understanding that children, well, they’re different and children may need something different at different times. So when we look at these programs and when we look at West Virginia from last year, really going and saying, “Let’s just make this available to every single child.” We know that from other states where they do have ESAs, where they do have vouchers, where they do have tax credits. If the program’s working for you, if your public school is working for you and you are thriving, you’re not going to leave that school. It’s working for you. I’ve never met a parent who wanted to change something that was working for their child. But when we limit the programs in this way, we really are limiting the opportunity for all children to have access to opportunities and to recognize that kids need different things at different points in times. It’s children who should be at the center of education, not the system. So we’ll continue to watch what happens out of South Carolina. Their session is wrapping up, I believe the second week in May. So we’re no real prognosis on what exactly is going to happen here, but it is a long, hard fought battle certainly in South Carolina to expand educational opportunities, there is an attempt underway. So we’ll continue to monitor that and report back out. 

Jordan: Lauren, thank you for that update. Just going back to what you said, putting students in the right situation is the most important thing. I know South Carolina has tried to work on a piece of legislation that would give students the most ample opportunity to be in the best situation. But unfortunately the language of that legislation has changed a lot and it’s been a uphill battle. So we will keep on following that. In the meantime we have Ed who is our state policy associate to give us an update on Louisiana. Ed, what can you share with us? 

Ed: Yeah, thank you, Jordan. So just recently the Louisiana House passed House Bill 33, which is a per pupil ESA for certain students. So the students eligible are students with an active duty military parent, students who have previously submitted an intro district or intra district transfer during the most recent transfer period with a request rejection or students who are currently receiving foster care placement. Students must be eligible to enroll in kindergarten or be enrolled in the Louisiana public school in the previous academic year. Something that has been really interesting about this Louisiana bill is, in the House, it has received a significant level of bipartisan support. To break down the vote for you, there were 65 Republicans, 10 Democrats, and one independent who voted for this ESA. It’ll be interesting to see what this looks like going forward as it moves into the Senate, and if it passes the Senate to see whether or not the governor will join in the bipartisan support or may look more toward a veto. We’ll have to see going forward. It’s still unclear where exactly this bill is going to go, but it’s definitely one of the big ones to watch. 

Jordan: Thank you, Ed. We will keep a close eye on Louisiana. While it seems like a lot of states are winding down, I do still have a few updates from the states I work in. Last month we did see ESA proposal called the Lifeline Scholarship in Pennsylvania pass that House of Representatives by vote of 104 to 98. Just a little bit of detail on Lifeline Scholarships, their education saving accounts, they do not have a capped account value. Though they are only eligible for military families, students with IEPs or individualized education plans, and then students that reside in what are designated as low achieving school districts. This piece of legislation is currently in the Senate and if it makes it through the Senate, it will have an uphill battle as far as getting a signature from the governor. But I have to say this, this year has been still a big victory in Pennsylvania regardless of the outcome. This is the furthest in ESA has ever progressed in the House of Representatives in the state of Pennsylvania. So to see their legislators jump on board behind a proposal and really push it is great. Now, with that, it’s important to note kind of like Lauren mentioned with South Carolina, it’s important that we make these programs more robust and more accessible for parents and students. I do think this is a good step in the right direction, but I would love to see a more robust program that would allow more students to be eligible. Not just those in low achieving districts, not just those in military households, not just those with IEPs, those are all deserving groups to be eligible, but really it would be great to see more West Virginia like universal proposals. Additionally, we are watching some pieces of legislation, they have not moved, but they are very much still alive. I’m talking about there’s two pieces of legislation in Iowa. They are essentially the same bill, the same language, the governor’s proposal, that would be an education savings account for students in households with incomes below 400,000% of the federal poverty or also students with IEPs. Governor Reynolds is actually very, very supportive of school choice in Iowa. We’re in a situation where her bill has indeed passed through the Senate and there’s an effort to get the requisite amount of votes in the House of Representatives. Governor Reynolds has been a big advocate educating and working with legislators on the issue. Our coalition members have been working really, really hard. In Iowa, really burning that midnight oil to educate legislators to make sure that they understand the importance of giving students the opportunity to be in the right learning environment. I’m honestly very, very enthusiastic about the work that’s been done in Iowa this year. So we’re keeping an eye on that piece of legislation. Their legislative calendar technically have gone past what their usual sine die is. Though, they are still in session, in over time, working hard on various pieces of legislation and hopefully this ESA in Iowa is one of the pieces of legislation that they are really considering putting to the governor for a signature. Finally, to wrap up our state updates. While it could be a long shot, there are still potential opportunities in New Hampshire to increase the eligibility for the tax-credit scholarship program. There was a standalone piece of legislation in New Hampshire that did pass the House that would’ve increased the eligibility of that program from students living in households of 300% of the federal poverty level and below up to 500%. So moving more towards universal, more towards just expanding the pie, allowing more students to access the program. While that piece of legislation ran into some stumbling blocks, there are efforts to work on reviving it or to insert that language into another piece of legislation. So we will be keeping an eye out on that with our fingers crossed and ready to help our partners in any way we can. Other than that that seems to be the majority of the action our team’s been working on and following in the states. We love to hear from our listeners. We love that you listen, and that you’re interested in this issue and we can’t wait to give you another update on what’s been going on the states next month. I hope when we talk to you next month, we’re going to have a lot of wonderful news on these pieces of legislation we’ve been following. Until next time, everyone.