Updates on Arizona and Pennsylvania as well as a new exciting announcement!
Jordan Zakery: Hello everyone, we are here for another edition of the EdChoice State Team podcast. We have a couple state updates to give this week in Arizona and Pennsylvania, but first I want to get to announcing we have a new director of policy, Marc LeBlond. We’re really thankful to have him on our team. We’ve worked with him throughout the years, through his time at the Commonwealth Foundation in Pennsylvania. He’s definitely the right guy for the job and brings a wealth of knowledge on school choice policy to our team. So just to get us started, Joey, what do you think about Arizona? It sounds like we have some big news out there, could you give our listeners an update?
Joey Magana: Yeah, it is quite the news story, something that I don’t think any of us really ever expected. So Arizona has just been a great state for school choice stating all the way back to the ’90s. They have an ESA program on the books. We thought that they would expand this year and early on, that was kind of the plan, and things quickly kind of fell apart after that. Arizona’s a very tricky state. They only have a one vote majority in both chambers, so getting anything passed means that you have to have everybody present, which is hard to do. Towards the middle and end of session, we just thought, this is not going to happen this year. And then low and behold last week a deal was struck between legislative leaders and Congress members on both sides and they went with a full blown, unencumbered, universal ESA. So Marc, correct me if I’m wrong, but students get their full allocation of funding to go wherever they would like. So, I mean, it’s great. It’s a great step forward that I don’t know that any other state has done. So congratulations to Arizona, their families are winning big, as some would say.
Marc LeBlond: That’s right, Joey. They’ve got an average scholarship there of $6,400. And what this does is it really just expands access so broadly, over a million kids in Arizona, they’d have life changing access because of this expansion.
Joey Magana: Yeah, it’s great. It’s a good way to end a somewhat disappointing year. There was a lot of ESAs that were introduced across the country and Arizona really came through big. So really appreciate them doing that for Arizona families.
Jordan Zakery: Yeah, definitely. Arizona was a big surprise. I know there were other initiatives across the country, Oklahoma, Iowa, Idaho, and others, where there were realistic chances and we’re going to keep fighting and working with partners in the upcoming year to make sure we pass a program that students can take advantage of to be put in the best educational environment. But for now we’re happy to hear about Arizona, we’re happy to hear that the governor has indicated he’s going to sign the bill into law. Arizona’s not the only place that’s still alive, we have the state of Pennsylvania and it’s great, they have a lifeline scholarship piece of legislation. Marc, tell our listeners a little bit about that piece of legislation and where it’s at in the legislative process.
Marc LeBlond: Yeah, absolutely, Jordan. Pennsylvania, interesting place. It’s a purple state. It’s had school choice in the form of charter schools dating back to 1997, tax credit scholarships dating back to 2001 and Pennsylvania has been flirting with the idea of an ESA, Education Savings Account or an Education Opportunity Account as it’s called in this legislation for about five years now. And this particular bill is breaking records, at least as far as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s concerned, it passed the House, which was the furthest and ESA bill had ever gone in the House. It most recently passed the Senate Education Committee. And as you mentioned, Jordan, the Bill’s called Lifeline Scholarships. It’s House Bill 2169. It is a targeted program for kids who reside in a school zone with bottom 15% of performance metrics, according to the state testing. And although it’s targeted, eligibility’s fairly broad, it would be eligible to about 25% of the kids in Pennsylvania, about 426,000 kids in Pennsylvania at an average scholarship of 6,800, and then it’s got some of those other provisions in there, like a special needs multiplier for the kids who need it. So this is the last week of session, budget deadline is June 30th, so we’re going to wait and see. It’s out of the Senate Ed Committee, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see if it moves for the full Senate and lands on Governor Wolf’s desk.
Jordan Zakery: Awesome. That would be great. We already know Pennsylvania has two of the more robust tax credit scholarship programs in the country, so to be able to add on a publicly funded ESA as an option would be wonderful to give students access to the funding they need to be in the best possible environment for them. So I guess there’s one more state that’s also live. Ed, would you like to tell us a little bit about what’s going on in Louisiana?
Ed Tarnowski: Yeah, absolutely, Jordan.
Joey Magana: Let’s hear from our resident Yankee in a good Southern state.
Ed Tarnowski: Yeah, so in Louisiana we have seen three targeted ESA bills pass through both chambers in the Louisiana legislator, some of which passed with overwhelming margins, two of which have now been vetoed by Louisiana Governor, John Bel Edwards. It is yet to be seen if a veto override would be in the works, given the large margins that some of these bills passed by. So we’re going to have to keep taking a look at that down in Louisiana and see if there’s a session to be planned.
Jordan Zakery: Awesome. Well, Ed, thank you for that up update out of Louisiana. Also, as we get through these legislative sessions, we’re transitioning into conference season where we get a chance to mingle with legislators, other policy experts, and really educate ourselves and prepare ourselves as we go in the next session. And speaking of which I had the opportunity to attend the National Alliance, a Public Charter Schools conference in DC, along with a couple other of our staff members. So I just wanted to give our audience a little bit of an outline of the three day event there. And it was a really inspiring conference, the overall theme of it was being stronger together. And I think that’s something as we move out of the pandemic and we work on advocacy throughout the states, regardless of its charters or private school choice, it’s something that we’ve got to keep in mind. And our own Robert Enlow, our CEO, and also our close friend Derrell Bradford, they were a part of a wonderful panel called Stronger Together, Navigating Divisive Coalitions in a Time of Divergent Beliefs. And really what they were talking about that I think it’s good for our audience to hear and it’s good for us to remind ourselves, times have been tough. There’s been a lot of divisive politics, but we have to remind ourselves that we’re all working on this issue together. We can work with people from different political parties, different beliefs, different backgrounds, as long as we’re focusing on the issue of empowering students and empowering parents. It was really great, the conference had a lot of sessions too, not just to inspire grasstops advocacy, but to inspire grassroots advocacy. And there were also really cool sessions on curriculum and on ideas like high dosage tutoring, ideas about the science of reading, which is a type of evidence-based curriculum that a lot of schools around the country are really focusing on implementing. So there was a lot to learn at this conference. And we also had an EdChoice boot we were passing around, the EdChoice study guide and the EdChoice 101s. So look for us on the road at several conferences this summer, including ALEC and CSL and others, the SPN conference, where you can pick up our new copies of our EdChoice study guide, our 101s, the ABCs, just to keep up to date on what’s going on in the country as far as school choice programs and which states have them and getting the most recent updates on school choice research. I want to turn it over to anyone here on the team who has any closing thoughts for us as we continue to work on state advocacy and we get into the summer months.
Ed Tarnowski: I guess the one thing that I would have to say is, it’s not over told it’s over when it comes to sessions. A lot of the sessions around the country have come to a close, or what we thought came to a close, and now we have the most expansive education savings account in the nation passing out in Arizona.
Jordan Zakery: Well, Ed, thank you for that important reminder. Like you said, it’s never over till it’s over. I think Arizona is a key example of, you work with diligence and you work hard and you put in the effort and effort can meet opportunity, and it sounds like a key opportunity has been capitalized. So let’s all keep going upward and onward, and we look forward to talking to the audience next month to give you our state update podcast.
Marc LeBlond: Greetings, EdChoice fans. Welcome back. We have an exciting update in Arizona. This is a supplement to the material that we already recorded because since then we’ve had an update. Today is Friday, July 8th. And when we left off, we were discussing the perspective Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account expansion. Ed did a great job of outlining the nuts and bolts of that and we have an exciting update. As of last night, the Governor of Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey, signed into law, universal access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts in Arizona. This is becoming a reality. Governor Ducey signed the bill. It becomes effective September 24th, 2022. And he’s so excited about it. He’s a true champion for education choice, education freedom for kids. He’s all over Twitter, just proclaiming the good news of this development in Arizona. And one of the tweets and I quote, “We are unlocking a whole new world of opportunity for them,” he means the students, “and their parents. Arizona is cemented as the top state for school choice and is the first state in the nation to offer all families the option to choose the school setting that works best for them.” And it’s true, Arizona is now a national leader and I cannot overstate the monumental significance of this. Over a million kids will have access to Empowerment Scholarship Accounts in Arizona. There’s approximately 1.2 million K through 12 students in Arizona. The state estimates a scholarship amount of around $7,000 with this expansion, with a broad range of uses for parents. So providing maximum flexibility for parents to direct and to guide their child’s education. Now, especially given the shadow of West Virginia’s recent attack on their education choice program and their ESA program, with kids in West Virginia having the rug yanked out from under them, potentially due to a court injunction, this development in Arizona is more welcome and more needed than ever. Now, it’s not all rainbows and kittens, unfortunately. Save Our Schools Arizona has brazenly announced their opposition to children having choice again via Twitter because that’s what people seem to do these days is announce their intent for what they’re going to do on Twitter. But at Save Our Schools Arizona, “Today, we are proud to announce the launch of hashtag stop voucher expansion, an all-volunteer petition to petition drive to refer universal ESA voucher expansion to the 2024 ballot and keep $1 billion in Arizona’s public schools. Now, this is interesting. It’s interesting. And it’s tragic, A because they’re opposing choice for kids. They’re opposing the right of parents to self-determine and to guide their child’s education. So there’s a moral issue here, but it’s also interesting from a messaging perspective. They’re saying that this is going to funnel a billion dollars out of Arizona public schools. Now, I did the math. If you are funneling a billion dollars out of Arizona public schools, that’s 150,000 kids. So inherent in their messaging in the union groups and the opposition’s messaging is that if families are given a chance, they will flee the system en masse. Now, we are not saying that. We’re saying that everyone is going to thrive under this program and our estimates of participation are far lower. But it’s interesting that their own messaging would be more damning of the system than anything that we at EdChoice have said. They obviously intend to fight these opportunities for kids, which is unfortunately because if they truly want to save our schools, this is the way to do it. Empowerment Scholarship Accounts are good for everyone. They’re good for the kids who participate, kids who remain in the public schools, everyone. And the record of history is absolutely crystal clear on this. You can check out our research page One, Two, Threes of School Choice and we will continue to keep you posted. Now that’s brilliant news out of Arizona. We’re going to continue monitoring that as well as the opposition fight. There’s been another update in Pennsylvania. And when we talked about Pennsylvania last time, they were potentially going to move forward in their Senate an education savings account, an education opportunity account bill for children in low achieving schools. Now, Pennsylvania passed their budget last night. Unfortunately, there was no love for lifeline scholarships, the ESA program. ESAs will have to wait in Pennsylvania possibly until the fall. We’ll see. We’ll keep tracking. There is some good news for students on the positive. Tax credit scholarships in Pennsylvania got a boost of $100 million. Now, this is a record for that program. Our friends in Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Foundation, they estimate this increase will give new opportunities to around 31,000 kids. Now, that’s not the entire wait list of kids who are wanting scholarship opportunities, but anytime you’re expanding options for tens of thousands of kids, that is a thing to be celebrated. As we leave you, remember all kids, every child deserves the opportunity to thrive in an educational environment that fits their needs and their gifts. Thanks, everyone. Take care until next time.