Ep. 364: State Updates – March 2023

March 23, 2023

Do you need a recap on the litigation and legislation going on in the states? Luckily, the state team has compiled the latest happenings in several states.

Joey Magaña: Well, we’re here for another statewide, well, national wide really, on states podcast, to kind of update folks on what’s going on, which there obviously is still a lot going on. We had some big updates the last time we did this with Iowa and Utah. Got some more big updates this time, so we’ll just get right down to it. Obviously, the next domino to fall, as it were, was Arkansas, who signed a universal piece of legislation into law. There’s actually a huge package for education reform. There’s lots of different things in it. There’s a teacher pay raise. There was a literacy plan with reading grants, tutoring grants, as well as a universal ESA bill, that phases in over three years. 

So big win for the state of Arkansas and the families there. I was intimately involved in kind of that whole effort. Arkansas is my home state, so was happy to go back there several times and both visit with the folks and work with legislators on getting this legislation through with our technical assistance and our research, which I’m always happy that we get recognized for that, because we have such great research. So yeah, Arkansas is the next domino to fall. Really, really pleased with that. We’re seeing a lot more things in other states continue to pop up. So Nathan, I think we’ll start with you. You’ve got two states in particular that are starting to move along in the process, so tell us about that. 

Nathan Sanders: Absolutely. Thanks, Joey. Currently, I’m in the beautiful state of South Carolina, and so, there are a couple bills in the Palmetto State, in which we are watching and supporting and with our data and research. And so, firstly, it’s S 39, which is our education savings account bill. Just a little bit about that bill, $6,000 per pupil funding and then, a three-year phase in for eligibility, which will eventually serve a little over 15,000 students statewide. So that one passed the Senate floor a few weeks back, and it’s sort of been awaiting its House committee and House floor vote. There is a chance of expansion on that one. I’ve heard that the House members are looking to expand both funding and/or eligibility on that, which is exciting to hear. Now, South Carolina, their legislature, they do have a couple breaks coming up. They have a furlough next week, and then, they also have a furlough the week of Easter, their House does. 

And so, those are some breaks that they’ll take. And so, this bill in particular, because it’s already passed its Senate hurdle, that one has the possibility to pass and hit the floor on the House before its second Easter furlough. And so, I’ll keep everyone updated on that, but that one is looking good, especially because of that optimism about the expansion there on the House side. Secondly, in South Carolina is S 285, which is their tax credit scholarship bill. That one will serve students that have an IEP, students with disabilities, homeschoolers, students entering the public school system who aren’t there, and then, also low-income students. There is a chance of a language change on that one. That one’s already passed its senate committee. It’s awaiting its Senate floor vote, but there is a chance that the language may change on that, to make it a little bit better. 

Now, that one, because it hasn’t even hit its Senate floor vote yet and the language change as well, that one has a chance to not be seen fully, especially on the House side, until after the second Easter furlough. So maybe a few more weeks on that one, 3, 4, 5 weeks. But good stuff coming with that one. So South Carolina, lots of talk about choice, expanding choice for students and families, and so, everyone is pretty optimistic about those bills expanding those options. While we’re on the Carolinas, let’s just go a little north to North Carolina. I’ll briefly speak about that. There will be an ESA bill filed there. There’s no title or author there yet, but there is language. There’s a bill in which we provided that fiscal analysis for. And so, we’re helping them out with that. That one, funding will be about a third of per pupil funding, give and take, depending on if you’re homeschool or private school eligible. 

Now, the thing about that one is the companion bill in the House and in the Senate, very similar language. The only difference is that, in the Senate side, there’s a seven-year phase in, which is a little bit longer. And then, in the House side, there’s a three-year phase in. So we’ll see how that one ends up coming through. But the languages are pretty similar on that one. But hopefully, right before, right after Easter, we see some action on that one. But looking good for both of the Carolinas there for expanding choice. And then, lastly, I’ll just mention, because I know we’re under a time constraint here, is Georgia. They had an ESA introduced to their senate a couple of weeks ago, and through amendments, their senate voted to sort of trim it down. The eligibility, the per pupil funding, and a lot of language is the same. 

But the eligibility was trimmed down a little bit to serve the bottom quartile, 25 percent of schools in Georgia. And so, that one is onto the House in the next week or two. And so, we’ll see how that one turns out. The House members are optimistic about potentially expanding that one and changing that one. But I’ve heard so many different things. I’ve heard that leadership may be behind it, which is optimistic. So we’ll see how that one turns out. But looking good for all these states. Even in Georgia, even if it doesn’t get expanded and the language passes as is, the conversations are still had and legislators are still talking about choice with families and parents. And so, that’s always a good thing. And then, in Florida, we’re still seeing their expansion with their program. Both of those bills, the SB 202 and HB 1 will be hitting the floor, both of them, very soon. 

So that’s looking good. And then, in some other states, like Louisiana, although no ESA bills seen yet, although there are some small ones, like in Louisiana, there was one filed. But speaking of Louisiana, like in Solution Summit, we just had Robert Enlow, our CEO, came to Solution Summit last week and spoke with lots of activists, legislators, and partners in Louisiana and just talked about school choice and ESAs and some of the national things going on around the country. And so, it was great to have him. It was great to have those conversations with people in Louisiana, in which they don’t maybe hear that stuff quite as often, because those conversations aren’t had as often as they should. So, it was good to have Robert to kind of come and give that national perspective and give his expertise. So, I’ll shut up now. But yeah, good things happening in the south. 

Joey Magaña: We’ll have to say, I was a little bit disappointed in the food options we had in Baton Rouge, because I was there as well. But that’s okay. I think, next time, we’ll have to remedy that. But yeah, Louisiana’s an interesting place. It’s kind of been a bit mixed bag for a bunch of different reasons, but I’m optimistic about the future, as I hope you are. But anyway, so Marc, what’s happening in Pennsylvania? 

Marc LeBlond: Lots going on, Joey. And first of all, I’d like to describe, very briefly, an event that I attended early this week. Just thinking about all of the wonderful partners that EdChoice has and has worked with over decades and the fruit that that’s yielding and the momentum, especially this year, in the year of universal educational choice, the group, CAPE, Council for American Private Education, held their annual board meeting in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. And EdChoice was joyfully a sponsor of that event. It was a wonderful event, reconnecting and connecting with so many of our good partners. And one thing that struck me, as I was sitting there hearing their stories, hearing how these folks are educating children, and devoted to the education of children, was I was seated at a table with a representative from Catholic schools, a representative from Islamic schools, representative from Christian schools, and a representative from Jewish schools. 

So all in a row, you’ve got Christian, Muslim, Jew, all united under common cause, all devoted to the same mission, in support of educational freedom and choice. So just goes to show what a uniting issue education choice, education freedom is. Quick legislative update. In Pennsylvania, we have many co-sponsorship memos, no actual bills yet. So right now, I would say it’s going slowly and then, it’s going to go fast, because these are all going to drop. Boom, boom, boom, boom. But first, we’ve got lifeline scholarships in the Senate, sponsored by Senator Judy Ward, out of Blair County, rural county in Pennsylvania. That’s a targeted ESA. There’s a companion bill in the House by Representative Clint Owlett in Tioga County, also very, very rural. 

In the House of Representatives, now this is an interesting one, there’s an education savings account targeted for students with special needs. That’s sponsored by Ed Neilson out of Philly, a Democrat. Also out of Philadelphia, we’ve got Representative Martina White, who’s sponsoring a massive expansion of the tax credit program. This is a 500 million dollar expansion to the educational improvement tax credit program, would represent a major, major increase to that program. And then, lastly, legislatively in Pennsylvania, Representative Milou Mackenzie is proposing a constitutional amendment so all money in Pennsylvania would follow the child. 

Joey Magaña: Yeah, that’s interesting and good stuff coming out of Pennsylvania, especially given the unique makeup that has changed over the past year. I will say, just because Caitlin wasn’t able to join us this time, for her area, some of which is mine, just living in Oklahoma with her, they still have the two House bills that are tied together, HB 2775 and 1935. 1935 is the refundable tax credit. And then, 2775 is the funding bill for the public portion. That was passed very quickly a few weeks ago and still awaiting hearing in the Senate. We’ll kind of see what happens. The Senate came out with their own education package at the beginning of session in late January and looks very different, but the spend is very similar. So I do think that there is some optimism still to be had in Oklahoma, but obviously, just trying to figure out where there’s some agreement and how we can get a reform package passed, much like they did in Arkansas. Texas is another state that just dropped a bunch of bills. I think it’s six or seven, Marc, that had dropped in Texas and have a hearing. 

Marc LeBlond: So it is a bunch of bills. And I think the two front runners are House bill 4340 and Senate Bill eight, in particular Senate bill eight, which would offer an $8,000 ESA. And that’s universal with a prior public requirement. So similar to West Virginia’s eligibility. And House Bill 4340, looks like that’s a 90 percent of the state funding, so roughly $6,000 for an ESA. But from what I hear, Governor Abbott, he’s really been pounding the pavement in support of education freedom, and just going around preaching the gospel of educational choice. 

Joey Magaña: Yeah, lots of big rallies/town halls/community meetings, that he’s been having all across Texas, to kind of obviously get families involved, see the importance of it, the benefit of it, get folks on board, which I think is the right way to go. You always want to start from a community perspective, rather than a legislative one, quite frankly. And that’s coming from a guy who’s worked on both sides of those coins. Ed, what can you kind of tell us? You’re kind of our tracker, you see all things everywhere, as well as working a few states yourself. What are you seeing? 

Ed Tarnowski: Yeah, absolutely, Joey. So, we are currently tracking 121 bills in 40 states that fund students instead of systems. It is now easier to count the states without school choice legislation than with. Of those bills, 75 of them are ESA related. That makes up more than three quarters of what we are tracking so far this year. ESAs continue to be king in 2023, and universal ESAs are more popular among legislators than ever before. 

Joey Magaña: Yeah, no, that’s great. Obviously, a big difference in, I think, what we’ve ever seen in our movement. I also want to make sure that I mentioned Kansas, possibly the next domino to drop. Just passed their ESA bill today with a one vote margin in the House, started off as universal in the Senate, got taken down a little bit in the House, but still a very significant good bill, that came out of the House just today. Just hot off the presses, I think within the last hour. So that will go back to the Senate, where I think it’s expected to pass, and then, go to a governor who is of a different party, but has signed some choice legislation in the past. So we’re optimistic that, hopefully, she’ll see this as good legislation, as we all see it. School choice is a bipartisan issue. It helps all families everywhere. 

So hopefully, she’ll see the light on that and get that passed. And then, Kansas will be our next state, one that, quite frankly, I don’t think was on anybody’s radar as far as given the political makeup that anything would really happen. They’ve had some good serious efforts in the past, but they decided to make a go of it this year. And I’m happy that they did, and hopefully, we’ll end up with a good outcome. So that’s kind of our state update for this month. Stay tuned. There’ll be more to come on the podcasts to come, and hopefully, we’ll have some more updates to share, that are good news. Until then.