Monday, April 2, 2012

School Choice Legislation Makes Headway in 2012

We’re only a quarter of the way through the year, but school choice legislation is not only making headlines, but also significant progress in state legislatures across the nation.  Here’s an update on the progress in 2012:

Education Savings Account Expansion: The Arizona legislature passed an expansion to the states’ fourth—and the nation’s first—education savings account program.  Originally created in 2011, this program allows parents of students who are identified as having a disability to receive 90 percent of the per-pupil expenditure to use on a variety of educational tools, including tuition and fees, textbooks, educational therapies, and tutoring.   House Bill 2626 increases the number of students who would qualify for ESAs by including students who attend a school or school district with a “D” or “F” rating, students of a member of the U.S. Military, and students identified as gifted. The bill now heads to Gov. Jan Brewer for her signature.

Individual School Tuition Organization Tax Credit Program Expansion: In February, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation expanding the nation’s first scholarship tax credit program into law.  Under the expansion, donors can now donate up to $1,000 for individuals and $2,000 for married couples to Scholarship Tuition Organizations.  Originally created in 1997—and upheld in 2011 by the United States Supreme Court—the program today serves more than 25,000 students and receives more than $47 million in donations.  

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion: Governor Scott signed legislation into law that expanded the highly-successful Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.  The legislation increased the cap on donations by $10.25 million next year, bringing the statewide donation cap to $229 million.  The bill also allows students in grades 2-5 to receive a scholarship without attending public school in the prior year. In addition, participating private schools can administer the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and the state education commissioner can suspend participating schools that demonstrate “a previous pattern of failure to comply” with state regulations.

Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program Expansion: House Bill 181 which strengthens the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program by providing specific parent notifications of student eligibility, creating multiple enrollment dates, establishing state payment deadlines, and changing the IEP requirements for student eligibility has passed both the House and Senate.  The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.  While technical in nature, this bill will allow more parents, students, and schools to participate in the program, which has grown every year.  In the 2011-12 school year, the program serves 2,965 students.

Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program Expansion: House Bill 976 which includes a statewide expansion of the New Orleans voucher program passed the House with bipartisan support—including ‘yes’ votes from 12 Democrats.  The program would allow children from families making less than 250 percent of the federal poverty guideline and who attend a school with a “C,” “D,” or “F” rating to qualify to receive a voucher to attend the participating private school of their parents’ choice. The legislation also creates a “parent trigger” for failing schools, expands pathways to create high-quality charter schools, and establishes a per course provider program.  The Senate Committee on Education unanimously passed the bill out of committee.  The full Senate is expected to pass the legislation.

New Hampshire
School Choice Scholarship Act: The New Hampshire legislature has passed legislation to create a scholarship tax credit program.   The House passed the bill yesterday on a 173-27 vote; while the Senate passed similar legislation last week on a 17-7 vote.  Since the bills differ slightly, the bills will have to conference before heading to Governor John Lynch, an opponent of school choice.  The legislature will likely have to pass the conference bill with a veto-proof majority.

South Carolina
South Carolina School Choice Package: The House passed a school choice package this week on a 65-49 vote. House Bill 4894 includes a tax-deduction for schooling expenses, a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income families, and a tax-credit scholarship program for students with special needs.  While the bill faces a tough fight in the Senate, the House’s action represents a significant step forward in empowering parents with educational options in the Palmetto State.

Virginia’s Scholarship Tax Credit Program: Virginia is poised to become the next home to a school choice program.  Both the House of Delegates and Senate passed legislation creating a scholarship tax credit program for students from low- and middle-income families to attend the school of their parents’ choice.  The legislation is awaiting signature from Gov. Bob McDonnell.

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MSG

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