Schools are designed to teach students, but ever since the pandemic hit, it’s been parents who have learned some hard lessons. They may welcome the fact that districts are finally beginning to open up, but many are also taking a more active role in their children’s education.
And states have been responding, with multiple legislatures undertaking one of the biggest expansions of school choice in history. For example:
—West Virginia. On March 29, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed into law the most expansive school choice program in the country, a nearly universal option for education savings accounts. It is the nation’s first universal education savings account program open to all children in the state.
Students who choose to participate will receive 100% of what the state would have spent on their education in their prior public school — approximately $4,600 per year — which they can use to pay for private school tuition, online learning, private tutoring and various other education services, products and providers.
—Kentucky. The state legislature overrode Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill to create the Bluegrass State’s first school choice program — tax credit-funded education savings accounts.
Students from families with incomes below 175% of the federal poverty line will have access to these Education Opportunity Accounts. The program, available to students living in counties with more than 90,000 residents, will initially be capped at $25 million.
—South Dakota. On March 18, Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law an expansion of South Dakota’s tax credit scholarship program. It provides tax credits to insurance companies that provide donations to scholarship-granting organizations, which in turn provide scholarships to eligible students to offset the cost of private school tuition.
Students from families whose income does not exceed 150% of the qualifying amount for free and reduced-price lunch eligibility (approximately $73,000 for a family of four) are eligible.
—Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp will soon have on his desk a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s existing voucher program for students with special needs. The proposal would expand eligibility to students in public schools with 504 plans (meaning they may need additional help in school due to learning impediments). Approximately 58,000 Georgia students have 504 plans and would be eligible for the expanded voucher program.
—Florida. The Legislature is considering a proposal to consolidate the state’s five existing school choice programs into two streamlined education savings account options. One of the options would be geared toward students with special needs; the other would be available to the broader student population.
The proposal would bring the flexibility and customization of education savings accounts to the existing voucher and tax credit scholarship programs, updating the current school choice programs. It also grows program eligibility by eliminating the prior public school attendance requirements and opening the education savings account program to low-income home-schooled students in the state.
—Arizona. The Legislature is considering an expansion of the state’s existing education savings account program to include students who attend a low-income school. It would make students who live in the attendance zone boundary of a Title I school eligible for the accounts. An estimated 65% of school districts in Arizona are home to Title I schools.
—Missouri. Missouri lawmakers have introduced a bill to create a tax credit-funded education savings account program with broad eligibility. The program would be open to all students who previously attended public school in Missouri, or are entering kindergarteners, or who have an active-duty military parent. The program would initially be capped at $50 million.
—New Hampshire. New Hampshire officials are likewise considering an education savings account program that would provide eligible families with $4,500 per year. The education savings accounts would be available to students from families earning less than $77,000 per year for a family of four.
—Indiana. State policymakers have introduced a measure that would expand eligibility for the state’s existing school voucher program and would create education savings accounts. Children with special needs, from military families or from foster families would be eligible for an education savings account worth 90% of what the state would have spent on that child in their public school.
In addition to these nine states, dozens of others are considering measures to expand education freedom and opportunity to students. An unprecedented 29 states have already introduced similar measures this year that will create or expand vouchers, tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts, according to the Educational Freedom Institute.
These measures are a swift rebuke to the teachers unions, who have not only stood in the way of education access during the pandemic, but have been the primary obstacles to education choice for decades.
— Lindsey M. Burke is the director of the Center for Education Policy and the Mark A. Kolokotrones Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation, www.heritage.org