Ep. 57: The Monthly Debrief – June to July

July 17, 2018

In this Monthly Debrief podcast, EdChoice’s Director of State Relations Lauren Hodge, Director of Policy Jason Bedrick and Senior Director of State Relations Michael Chartier break down the legislative movement of private educational choice bills in the states in June and look forward to what’s to come in July.

Michael Chartier: Well, hello, listeners. Thank you again for joining us for another EdChoice Chat. I’m Michael Chartier, our senior director of state relations. In studio with me is Lauren Hodge, our state director in charge of New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina and Mississippi. We’ve got on the phone from our EdChoice West annex Jason Bedrick, who is our policy director and overseeing our state work in Arizona, or as he calls it, “the cactus patch.” So I want to thank them all for being in the studio and being on the phone with us.

We’ll get started right away, and I think we’re going to start with Jason here. Jason is going to give us a little bit of an update about what happened in New Hampshire this year in terms of school choice legislation, and then also some budget issues with what happened in Louisiana and Pennsylvania. So Jason, thanks for being on the program, and why don’t you tell us a little bit about what happened in New Hampshire, a state where you at one time were a state legislator?

Jason Bedrick: Great. Well thanks again for having me, Mike. New Hampshire this year, the big push, as our regular listeners know, was for a universal ESA that then got pared down to a low-income targeted ESA that unfortunately failed just by five votes on the last vote in a chamber with 400 members, after it had previously passed that chamber and had previously passed in the Senate and had the support of the governor. It went really far. The activists that I’ve spoken with on the ground are not demoralized. They are emboldened by the fact that this got further than ever before, and so they’re looking forward to the next legislative cycle.

In the meantime, they did expand the tax-credit scholarship program. New Hampshire has no income tax, so it was originally only businesses that could contribute and receive an 85 percent credit for donations to scholarship organizations that support low-income families sending their children to a school of their choice. This year they expanded the program so that individuals who are subject to the interest and dividends tax can also receive tax credits when they donate to a scholarship organization. It really broadens the base of potential supporters for the program, and they expect that they’re going to have a lot more revenue, and therefore be able to support a lot more students. As it is, the program has been roughly doubling in the past few years, so we should see a fair number of students, maybe even more than 500 students this year, participating.

Michael Chartier: Now Jason, there’s only one SGO in New Hampshire, right? Kate Baker’s SGO?

Jason Bedrick: There are two, but Kate Baker’s group which was originally the Network for Educational Opportunity and then became an affiliate of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which is a national scholarship organization that operates in a number of states, many of which do have tax-credit scholarship laws and quite a few that don’t. So they’re now the local affiliate for CSF, but there is one other, smaller scholarship organization as well.

Michael Chartier: Got it. Thanks for that. I couldn’t remember. I know we had talked about that, but I couldn’t remember. So for our listeners, we actually took a little tour up to New Hampshire this past month and met the coalition up there and had some interesting conversations. I might do a little teaser. I think Jason took us around and showed us some interesting things about the governor’s office, and his good friend the Secretary of State, and we might get into that in a later podcast about some cool things that were discovered up in the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s office. But for right now, I think that’s a little bit outside of our purview, but I’ll just tease that in for maybe coming back next month.

Now Jason, you also talked about the fact that there was some budget things in Louisiana, that there may have been some confusion and some concern about what was going on with the budget down there. Could you give us a little update about what happened down there in the Pelican State?

Jason Bedrick: Yes. There had been some concern that the LSP, the Louisiana Scholarship Program, which is a low-income voucher, would not be fully funded. And in previous versions of the budget it was not. Lawmakers did reach a deal last month that is going to fully fund the voucher program, so 41.9 million dollars will be allocated to the LSP so that the students who are participating in that program will continue to receive vouchers to go to the school of their choice.

Michael Chartier: Well thank you very much for that update, Jason. It’s always sad to see these budget negotiations drag on, and really hold these kids’ future in jeopardy while politicians argue over funding. We should be funding children and we should be funding all of the ways that can educate them.

Jason Bedrick: Absolutely. Though there is a brighter spot at least in Pennsylvania, which I think you were about to ask me about.

Michael Chartier: I was. You’re very prescient.

Jason Bedrick: So in Pennsylvania in their budget negotiations, they did increase the amount of tax credits available for the tax credit scholarship program. The EITC, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, has expanded their cap by 25 million. It had a cap of 160 million, and now the cap is at 185 million. Then there is also a few other programs, the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, which has a cap of 50 million, so there are a number of avenues for students in that state to receive scholarships and now thanks to the budget cap increase they’ll be able to support even more students in the coming year.

Michael Chartier: That’s awesome, thanks Jason. And if I’m correct, that was a bit of a bipartisan effort there, passed by Republicans in their general assembly and signed by a governor who was a Democrat. So that’s obviously a big win for us, isn’t that correct?

Jason Bedrick: That is correct.

Michael Chartier: Awesome. Well thanks very much for that update Jason. So I’m sitting next to Jacob here. I’m thinking that I need a bit of a Kramer-like spread here where I can give claps to people, maybe some boos, have a little button I can hit, when we’re talking about Louisiana give them a little boo and Pennsylvania give them a thumbs up or something. So maybe this is something we can work out in the podcast going forward.

We’re going to transition here into in state, in the studio, with Lauren Hodge. She’s going to give us a little bit of an update about what happened in North Carolina this past month. I’m going to close out with Nevada, and then we’ll talk a little bit about Janice. So Lauren please, give us a little update about what happened in North Carolina.

Lauren Hodge: Well thanks so much Michael. I’ll really happy to be here. North Carolina was amongst one of those victory stories that we have this month, especially as it regards to their budgets. North Carolina’s Special Education Scholarship Grant received an additional three million dollars this budget cycle. What this will do is it will help about 375 families who were previously on the waiting list for the program get into the program. And for those listeners who may not quite remember, North Carolina has a variety of choice options, but that special needs scholarship is for students who have a qualifying IEP or an Individualized Education Plan, so those individuals who maybe need some additional help or have some special learning needs. So what this is is an opportunity for those individuals who have those qualifying IEPs and who meet the other eligibility requirements have an option to then receive a voucher type of program for private school tuition or homeschooling aid. So it’s one of those ways that North Carolina is really trying to encourage the choice movement and encourage the ability of students who very well may be learning differently.

Michael Chartier: That’s awesome. I know North Carolina has always been doing something year after year, trying to give those options to families, so I’m going to give them the claps that I don’t have here as a button. But they’re doing a great job, and we’re going to be hearing from Lauren again here at the end of the podcast just to talk a little bit about Janice, how that affects things at the federal level, how that got there a little bit, and how it might affect things at the state.

And then also, Leslie Hiner, our vice president of our legal center here, is going to be doing a larger podcast on Janice, really getting into the nitty gritty about that. So I thought I would ping that and pitch that here for you guys.

I’ll end out then with the last state, Nevada. Nevada has an interim study commissioned on the Nevada tax-credit scholarship program, or as some people in the state call it the Nevada Opportunity Scholarship Program. Basically what that was is, it was the education committees, both the Assembly and the Senate, got together and asked questions of people of how is this program being implemented, what students are taking part in it, how many tax credits are we giving out, are all of them taken? And they’re just trying to understand the program from the standpoint of are there things we need to change to make it better, are there those we can remove, and those sorts of things.

A large coalition of people gathered together and essentially defended the program against some people that were interested in removing that program from the books. Our own Valeria Gurr was there, advocating on behalf of parents and bringing together a bunch of parents to talk about the areas that this program affects them. It’s really trying to give that human face of why this program is important to parents.

And then also we had Don Soifer, another good friend of ours, talk about how he’s seen this program work in other states and offering some tweaks about how this program could work better in Nevada. So we hope going forward that the legislature will listen to those people and make the necessary tweaks to make this work better for families and certainly keep this program on the books for the thousands of Nevada families that are utilizing it to get a better education for their children.

With that, that’s the end of our state updates. Please look forward to next month where we give you a little bit more about what’s going on in the states. But for now, I want to turn it over to Lauren and we’re going to talk a little bit about the Janus case. For any of you that don’t know, the Supreme Court ended its term about a week ago, I believe, and their last ruling was this Janus ruling out of the Janus case out of Illinois. I want to turn it over at this point and have Lauren give us a quick background about what happened and then we can have a conversation from there.

Lauren Hodge: Thanks so much Michael. Now for you listeners who know my background, you know that I am an attorney and previously a litigator. I was asked to talk a little bit about this today, but I’m going to plug Leslie Hiner from our office’s podcast once again. Leslie is a phenomenal source and will have an absolutely nitty gritty analysis of this. But for the purposes of today, we just wanted to talk on the board spectrum of what the Janus case means. You might have heard this coming up more and more in the media.

And what this case is, it’s Janus versus the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. This is, I feel like I’m back in law school, this case is affectionately referred to as “Janus,” and Janus is the name of the petitioner, Mark Janus. The holding, which I’ll give you first, what this case actually means, and for anyone who went to law school that’s listening you have a smile on your face because of course the holding is going to come first, before the facts. It’s that the Supreme Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for a state or public sector union to for non-consenting employees to pay union agency fees.

Now, we’ll unpack that a little bit because there’s a lot to that statement. But the gist of is that the Supreme Court held that you can’t force somebody in a state or public sector employ to pay those union fees if they don’t want to be paying them. And we’ll go through the why’s and how that happens. But this case originated I think originally in 2015, and as those of you who are familiar with the legal system know, it takes years if ever to get to the Supreme Court. This case went up on a writ of cert on June 6th of 2017.

First of all, to get to the Supreme Court is just a huge hurdle, and really what this case dealt with was whether or not you could have these public sector employees be required to pay dues when they may or may not want to. Just a little bit of the facts of this case. Mark Janice, we’ve mentioned him previously. Mark Janice was a previous state employee in Illinois, and he refused to join the AFSCME, or rather the local public union. He didn’t want to join them because they didn’t align with his political beliefs. He didn’t want to, but because of previous rulings, the union could still take a portion of his paycheck for dues. Mark said, “This isn’t fair,” and so he started this court case.

There are many iterations of this court case, and we’ll let Leslie get into the full nuts and bolts of the situation, but essentially what happened is that we had an employee who was in a way forced to be a part of the union. And union activities throughout our nation’s history have involved a lot of really good things and a lot of things that are sometimes political, and really where a lot of this case came down to is how do we start separating out what is the political activity of a union from what is the collective good of that union.

And so we’ll go ahead and let Leslie talk more particular about the arguments that were made, but where this case was decided was along the lines of the First Amendment, and what’s really important about the case is that we overruled a previous court precedent. For those in the legal community, you know that’s a huge thing to do. We don’t often hear the Supreme Court say “We got it wrong,” and really what Janus stands for is “We got it wrong. We don’t think that that is the precedent that we should be having anymore”.

And that precedent that it overruled was Abood versus Detroit Board of Education. That court had previously determined that dues were collected, so long as they were collected for the union’s purposes of collective bargaining, contract administration, grievance, adjustment, it didn’t violate members’ First Amendment rights. What Janus came around and said is “Nope, we’re going to look at that ruling again and we’re going to say that that was wrong and that this is a violate of the First Amendment rights”.

And so when we’re talking about the Janus case, I think there’s a lot of things that the case stands for, and a lot of things that the case doesn’t stand for. That ruling is limited only to those unions that are for state unions or public sector employees, and we’re also limiting it to those who decide not to be a part of the union. What this case isn’t is a decree that unions can no longer exist. That’s certainly not what this ruling held. Instead what this ruling held was that the union can absolutely exist but if you choose to not be a part of this union, then you don’t have to be.

So I guess that’s the overarching theme towards this. I know for the choice community here with education, we do want to talk about it. And it does matter, because the same way that students have a right to choose and we advocate that parents have a right to choose the best education, certainly this comes down on the side of choice. That you can be a part of the union or you don’t have to be.

Michael Chartier: Thank you very much for that great update, Lauren. That was a good synopsis of this for our listeners, and again we’ll plug Leslie Hiner’s podcast going forward as well, and you listeners will be able to listen to her podcast.

With that, I want to thank all of our listeners for sitting through and listening to another EdChoice Chat. We do appreciate you guys being here and taking the time to listen to us. If you guys have any questions or comments, please send us an email or shoot us a text or a Facebook message as it were, I don’t know these things. I’m not on Facebook. But please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. My email address is michael@edchoice.org, and shoot some questions, or if you guys have anything that you want us to talk about or guests you us to have on, please don’t hesitate to ask and reach out to us. So again, please visit us at www.edchoice.org to learn more about EdChoice, pick up some of our research, read some of our surveys, or subscribe to this podcast. And with that I want to thank you all and hope you have a good July and we look forward to hearing from you or you hearing from us in August.