Do you know what it means to codify a school choice program? Our team discusses that as well as legislative updates in the states in this episode of The Monthly Debrief podcast. Listen below to learn what happened in the world of school choice in April, what’s going on now and what’s coming up later in May from EdChoice’s Director of Policy Jason Bedrick, Senior Director of State Relations Michael Chartier and Director of State Relations Lauren Hodge.
Michael Chartier: Welcome, everybody, to this month’s edition of EdChoice Chats. My name is Michael Chartier and I’m the senior director of state relations. We have Lauren Hodge and Jason Bedrick with us to talk about what’s going on with the states. This podcast will be a look back at what happened in April, and what things we might be able to expect going forward then in May as well in the legislative sessions are going on then. So we can dive right into this. We’ll start with Jason Bederick, who spent a little bit of time up in the northeastern part of our country, in New Hampshire. Jason, would you tell us a little bit about what happened in New Hampshire in April and what happened regarding their ESA bill there?
Jason Bedrick: Yes, happy to, although the story itself is not very happy. Last year, legislators in New Hampshire introduced SE 193, which was, as our listeners probably know, a universal education savings account program that the Senate passed and sent over to the House, but the House decided to take the summer to look at it, amended it in the fall, and the House Education Committee sent it back, an amended version that was tailored to low-income families and a few other categories of disadvantaged students or those with special needs, et cetera, those assigned to low-performing schools, and so on.
That passed the House earlier this year and then was sent to the Finance Committee, which then spent a great deal of time, many months, rewriting it over and over and over. After many successive rewrites, the Finance Committee decided to recommend an interim study, which really is a polite way of killing a bill. It means that no action is going to be taken on it this year, and that a legislative committee would be established over the summer to consider the issue further and then to possibly recommend revised legislation or that the legislature take no action at all.
The full House then voted, and it was a very narrow vote. There is a 400 member body, and there were about, more than 10 percent actually of the legislators were absent that day and the margin was 11 votes. There was a lot of drama, a lot of legislative maneuvering. This was late in the day, so the speaker did what’s called the “third reading motion”, which ends the action for the day, there can be no further motions brought forward. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a roll call on the third reading motion, but they did close business for the day. That gave them an opportunity to return the next day to reconsider the motion. That’s why there was some drama surrounding ending business for the day.
Often when you have a controversial bill, you have one shot at the reconsideration motion. So somebody, only somebody on the prevailing side of the vote can call this motion. Often, somebody will immediately after a controversial vote, call it, recommend to their colleagues that they vote “No” on reconsidering, and then you’ve lost the opportunity to reconsider. But because the speaker ended business for the day, they were able to come back the next day, they were able to bring more of their members in, although there were also some additional absences. The second time they voted on it, it was a seven vote margin.
So that seemed to be the end of it. Interim study. But then the Senate decided to resuscitate the bill by attaching it to a House bill that they had, and send it back over to the House. Yet again, there was a vote, this time with a five vote margin against in that case concurring with the Senate.
The long and the short of it is that it was very, very close, but this year no ESA bill for New Hampshire. They did, however, expand their education tax credit program. Currently, businesses that donate to a scholarship organization can receive an 85 percent tax credit. Those scholarships organizations help low income families attend the school of their choice or can help them with certain homeschooling expenses. This year, the legislature allowed individuals to take a tax credit against the interest and dividends tax. Even though they did not enact ESAs, they were able to expand their tax credit program, so hopefully in the coming year we will see more low income families taking advantage of that program.
Michael Chartier: So Jason, thank you very much for that. Very good update. There’s a couple things I wanted to unpack there, and like I do pull out a few terms of art. You talked about the Speaker having a roll call vote. Could you explain that to our listeners please, about what a roll call vote is and how that affects things in the legislative chamber, especially in New Hampshire?
Jason Bedrick: Yeah. There are three different types of votes, and this is true in most other states as well. You’ve got a voice vote, a division vote, or a roll call vote. A voice vote is when the speaker just asks “All in favor say ‘Aye'”, everyone says “Aye”, “All opposed say ‘Nay'”, and some say “Nay”, and then the speaker decides if more said “Aye” or “Nay” and bangs the gavel. Many of those are just not controversial votes.
Then there’s what’s called the division vote. A division vote, they get a precise count of how many voted in favor or against whichever motion is on the floor, but you don’t know how each legislator voted. It’s sort of a secret ballot. Then the roll call vote is where, it’s like the division, you get a precise count, but it’s an open ballot, so you see exactly which way every legislator voted. Usually, the third reading motion which ends business for the day is just a voice vote, because the Speaker says “You know it’s getting late in the day, we’re going to move on, I’ll see you all tomorrow or next week,” or whenever the next session is.
But in that case, everyone realized immediately what the Speaker was trying to do, was trying to preserve the opportunity to reconsider the bill, and so they wanted it on roll call. They wanted a record of who was voting for and against it. That way, each side really did basically get to pressure their members to vote the right way. But often, a procedural vote like that as opposed to a policy vote is more partisan, and so even some of the Republicans that went against their party leadership on the bill itself were not willing to go against their party leadership on a procedural vote like that. Or perhaps they were just anxious to get home as it was getting late, so they did vote to close business for the day. And there was the second chance, which would have made for a really great story, but unfortunately they just weren’t able to cobble together the votes the next morning.
Michael Chartier: Well thank you Jason for that update. It’s always fascinating to learn about how there votes happen. I didn’t even know about the division vote. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that happen before. So thank you for that. Maybe another podcast we can talk a little bit more about that.
Well, I’m sitting next to Lauren and she’s sitting very patiently, waiting to talk about her states. So I think we can call on her next. So Lauren, you want to talk a little bit about what happened in South Carolina? You’ve spent a little bit of time down there, enjoying the sunshine I think, it’s beautiful weather down there. As you were down there enjoying the weather of course, what things happened and transpired in April in the legislature in South Carolina?
Lauren Hodge: Well I’ll just start of by saying a great South Carolina greeting. Hey, y’all. It was pretty wonderful to be down in South Carolina, so what I’m going to talk to you about today is HB 4077. For those of you who remember way back when, certainly before I had joined the EdChoice team, we had HB 4077 that was introduced back in March of 2017. It was introduced for the first time, read the first time in the House, sent to the Committee for Ways and Means. We had a second reading in the House, a third reading in the House, and it made its way over to the Senate.
When it was at the Senate, it had a couple of readings. A first reading and a second reading there, and then it was referred back into the House most recently in April. This past April, the House concurred in the Senate amendments and HB 4077 looks like it’s going to be going to the governor’s desk. That was an exciting moment. What that will do is codify the exceptional SC program.
The other really fun thing that happened down in South Carolina this past month was we had our first hearing for S622, which is the ESA or the Educational Savings Account bill. For those of you who are new, I am new to EdChoice. I previously was a litigator, but I had no real experience in with the legislation and the legislatures, and so I had an opportunity to go through and experience my first real hearing. What we did was we took testimony. We heard from a variety of different individuals, some national, some local, some out of town, about the impact the Educational Savings Account bill might have.
Now, for those of you who know about the educational reform movement, we know that educational savings accounts are one of those methods by which we can add some new choice into this state. South Carolina is looking to advance this by putting forward that educational savings account. We heard from a national perspective, one which provided more of the global 33000 foot view about how educational savings accounts have worked in other places like Florida, like Georgia, Arizona certainly. We also looked from a more state-wide perspective, and we heard from individuals who both had the experience of running private schools, parents alike who would benefit from the education savings account, and it was really moving to hear their passion both from the policymakers and from the parents that were in the room. I think one of the best things about being able to be there and hear the testimony was to feel the excitement, the energy that was there, and really to see that South Carolina, they are looking for some change. We hope that coming next year we might get some more movement on that.
Michael Chartier: Perfect. Thanks for that update Lauren. You talked about a couple of different things there in South Carolina, and I think I wanted to see if we could unpack that. So HB4077, obviously I think that’s a name that means quite a lot to me because I enjoyed the TV show M.A.S.H., of course it’s HB4077 M.A.S.H., is the way that I think about. You talked about that bill was codified. It was codifying something. Could you explain a little bit what that means to our listeners, why something would need to be codified, how that affects the process and why that’s important to do?
Lauren Hodge: Absolutely. This is where, one of those times where having that legal background might be a little bit useful. When we talk about codifying something, we talk about making it a permanent fixture into that state’s statutes. What this does is it takes the Exceptional SC program, which previously has been year to year, so every year fighting that same battle, over and over and over again to make sure the program stays there and continues to gain support and continues to grow, what it does is it takes that year to year battle and says “Nope, we’re going to actually put this into statute”. And so to “codify” it means to make it a part of that larger, permanent structure, so it will actually end up being a line item in the budget, so we aren’t continuing to start from step one every single year, having to fight the same battles for the program.
Michael Chartier: Thank you very much for that update. So you can kind of see, I think listeners, about why that’s important to actually have it in the state statutes. It’s a program that’s continue to be in the books, instead of having to go through the whims of the budgets. I think that’s kind of important for everyone to understand why you would want to have something codified instead of just passing it in the budget from year to year.
Lauren Hodge: And I also think with that as well, it’s certainly from a reform standpoint we want to see that we’re making those standpoints and we want to make sure that we see this progress, but also from a parental perspective, it’s really hard to be a part of a program and have your child in that program when you don’t know if it’s going to be there the next year. Hopefully it will give some long-sought stability to South Carolinians.
Michael Chartier: Well thank you. That is something we always want to do is make sure there’s long-term stability to these programs. We don’t want them going in and out. And I say that with a heavy heart talking about Nevada, that that program remained unfunded. I know our listeners all know that that’s important to have that long-term stability, and you don’t turn out like Nevada, passing a program without any money attached to it.
I think it’s my turn now to perhaps talk about a state. Sadly, I don’t just get to ask the questions I apparently have to answer them from time to time. So I’ll take us to the state of Iowa, the Hawkeye State. Also a character from M.A.S.H., I realize that. So it’s a M.A.S.H., we’re going to call this the M.A.S.H. podcast.
What happened in Iowa in April was that the Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee introduced legislation, Senate Study Bill 3206. What that means, it’s a Senate Study Bill, would be that over the summer the Senate Appropriations Committee got together and studied the issues of school choice and education savings account, and they determined as a committee on behalf of the chairman that this is something they wanted to take up and they wanted to put the full force of the committee behind this to introduce that legislation.
They did that on behalf of the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and that bill, Senate Study Bill 3206, was sent to a sub-committee at first, and that sub-committee passed Senate Study Bill 3206 by a three to two vote. That then moved that bill up to the full Appropriations Committee. Unfortunately, that full Appropriations Committee did not take up the bill in the time allotted, and so that Education Savings Grant bill expired and it did not pass, did not move on in the legislative process. That bill is dormant, and unlike South Carolina which could carry those bills over from session to session, Iowa does not have that provision, so the bill is dead and a new piece of legislation would have to be introduced.
On a positive note though in the state of Iowa, in the budget, as we talked about South Carolina codifying pieces of legislation, Iowa passed an increase for their tax credit scholarship program in the state budget. There was two specific areas they had an increase on. The first one is that they raised the cap on eligible donations to receive a tax credit scholarship from 12 million dollars to 13 million dollars. So it was a million dollar increase. And at the end of the day, that’s a little over I believe 600 kids that could utilize the program based on the average size of a grant in Iowa. This is helping out a large number of kids there. Not as many as we would like, obviously, but at the end of the day that’s going to help out those over 600 kids in the program, so they did receive a million dollar increase.
Secondly, they also raised the income eligibility for the tax credit program. It’s currently at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, and they raised that level to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, so the amount of kids and the parental income for those kids has gone up. More kids are eligible for this program, and I believe that will lead to increased demand for the program and hopefully as we’ve talked about making this a better access, hopefully the legislature will look at other ways of determining how to expand eligibility for choice for the citizens and the children of the state of Iowa.
Well listeners, thanks for listening in again on this EdChoice Chat looking back on what happened in April, and we’ll talk about what happened in May for those states that still have sessions going on. Please visit our website at www.edchoice.org, again that’s www.edchoice.org, to read our monthly state updates and to find a wide variety of research, videos about educational choice, and really just to gain a better understanding of how these programs work.
With that I will sign off. Thank you very much for listening and we look forward to you listening again next month.