Ep. 52: The Monthly Debrief – May Looking to June 2018

June 12, 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 May and look forward to what’s to come in June.

Lauren Hodge: Good afternoon listeners. This is Lauren, the newest member of Team EdChoice state team here. I am excited to be leading my first EdChoice Chat. Welcome back to those who listen regularly and to the new listeners, thank you for joining us.

On the phone with us is Jason Bedrick, who’s our policy director for EdChoice. We also have Michael Chartier, senior director for the state relations team here.

I guess the first thing that we’re going to talk about, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to go ahead and talk about South Carolina first. We’ve actually talked a little bit last month about the passage of HB4077, which codified the Exceptional SC program. That bill was passed the last time we had talked, but it has officially been signed by the governor and was done so on May 18 of 2018.

The bill codifies the exceptional SC program, which provides assistance to children with special needs. This is kind of a somewhat unique bill and what it actually does is it gives a maximum scholarship amount to a student of $11,000 or the cost of tuition and qualified expenses, whichever is less.

The nice thing about this program is that the scholarship maybe used for tuition, transportation, textbook expenses or any combination of these qualifying private school expenses. That’s kind of a nice flexibility that the program has already provided in.

The students that are eligible to receive this scholarship, though, are limited to those that the South Carolina Department of Education has defined as a child with disability. The exciting thing about this actual passage, though, is two things. One, the codification of the actual program, and I’ll talk a little bit about what that means, and two, the fact that there is an increased cap on tax credits for the scholarship contributions so that increase is $1 million. It’s going to go from $11 million to $12 million, which means more children and more access to these types of programs.

We had talked a little bit last time about what it meant for the codification of this program. If you’re a policy buff like Jason or Michael, this might be old hat to you, and you might already understand, but for those of us who maybe new I thought I’d go over what that kind of meant for it to be codified.

Basically what that means is that the bill becomes a part of the actual code in South Carolina. It becomes part of the law. Previous to the passage of HB4077 this program had to be passed annually in the budget every single year so there was a lot of instability about whether or not that program would continue to be passed and whether or not that budget would allow for it.

The codification actually takes that program and puts it into the law of South Carolina, which means that it’s not going to be that annual budget fight that we’ve seen so much in the past. Hopefully with the codification and the increased tax cap South Carolina will be well on it’s way to expanding educational choice opportunities down there to students.

Jason, what do you have for us?

Jason Bedrick: Thank you Lauren for that excellent overview. I’ve got two updates for you this month. The first really quickly, we had discussed the past Georgia’s HB217, which was a bill that nearly doubled the amount of tax credits available for the state’s qualified education expense tax credit. Currently the program offers up to $58 million in tax credits a year. That cap is usually hit within the first 24 hours, which means that there is a lot of donor support for the program. There are also large waiting lists for students that want to participate in the program.

Nathan Deal, the governor of Georgia, signed this past month. That bill, HB217, which expands the number of credits from $58 million to $100 million. It’s going to greatly increase the number of students who are going to be able to benefit from those scholarships.

Secondly, in Pennsylvania the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee passed SB2, which is a bill that would create an education savings account program to students who are signed to lower performing district schools.

The next stop is going to be the full Senate. We are hopeful that it is actually going to get a hearing and a vote in front of the full Senate, but we will find out later this month.

Lauren Hodge: Fantastic to know. Thanks so much Jason. Great news about Georgia and we’ll keep our fingers crossed on Pennsylvania.

Next we’re going to hear from Michael. Michael has an update about Iowa for us. Go ahead Michael.

Michael Chartier: I think my big update is the fact that Iowa, in its budget session, passed an increase in the tax-credit scholarship program. They had two universal ESA bills that made it out of a subcommittee, both the House and the Senate Education and Finance Subcommittees. Those actually didn’t go as far as we would’ve hoped, but they did make a valiant effort.

Again, they did pass increases of a tax-credit scholarship program. What that ended up being was they passed a $1 million dollar increase in the tax-credit scholarship cap to the amount of money that can be given out in credits was increased from $12 million to $13 million.

They also increased the income that was allowable to receive the tax-credit scholarship. That went from, I believe, 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s over $100,000 for a family of four. That really increases the amount of people that can actually utilize these tax-credit scholarships. We look forward to following Iowa as it continues on its school choice journey.

Lauren Hodge: Great update Michael. Thanks so much. With that I think that that concludes this month’s EdChoice Chat. Thank you all for joining us. Thank you so much Jason and Michael for joining me for this EdChoice Chat. Thank you for all of our listeners who tuned in. Make sure you join me next month for a look back at June and forward at July. Have a great day.