Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Breakthrough Victories: A Legislative Update

The Wall Street Journal called 2011 “The Year of School Choice,” and we think 2012 is the year for breakthrough victories for children, the theme of the American Federation for Children’s third annual National Policy Summit, held earlier this month.

So what have been the breakthrough victories in 2012?  Thanks to the hard work of advocates, parents, elected officials, and many more, there are 29 private school choice programs across the nation.  And already in 2012, two new programs were created in Louisiana and Virginia and four programs were expanded in Arizona (which expanded two of its programs), Florida, and Louisiana.


Expanded Program: Governor Jan Brewer yesterday signed legislation expanding the Education Savings Account Program.  Created in 2011, the ESA program allowed students with disabilities to use 90 percent of the state funding, taking into account grade and disability to use on a variety of educational tools including tuition, fees, testing, tutoring, and educational therapies.  With the newly enacted expansion, students attending a school or school district rated “D” of “F,” children of U.S. Military personnel, and children in foster care now qualify for the program.  ESAs are considered to be the new frontier of school choice as the program allows parents to decide how to use their child’s education dollars.

Expanded Program: In February, the Grand Canyon State also expanded the nation’s first scholarship tax credit program by doubling the amount that donors can contribute to Scholarship Tuition Organizations.  Under the expanded program, individuals can donate up to $1,000 and married couples can donate up to $2,000.  In 2011, the program was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Expanded Program: Last month, Governor Bobby Jindal signed the sweeping statewide expansion of the Students Scholarships for Educational Excellence into law.  The expanded program will allow students from low-income families attending persistently failing schools to attend the public or private school of their parents’ choice.  Passed with bipartisan support, House Bill 976 gives priority to students attending schools rated “D” or “F.”  It is estimated that as many as 380,000 children in Louisiana will be eligible to participate.  Originally created in 2008 for students in Orleans Parish, the program currently serves nearly 2,000 children.

New Program: This month, Governor Jindal signed a statewide scholarship tax rebate program into law, which allows individuals and businesses to receive a rebate for money donated to organizations that provide private school scholarships to eligible students.  The program, which had bipartisan support in the legislature, allows students with a family income below 250 percent of the federal poverty level to participate.  Students attending failing schools will receive first priority in the program.


New Program: Governor Bob McDonnell signed legislation into law earlier this year creating Virginia’s first private school choice program.  The scholarship tax credit program will allow individuals and businesses to donate money to scholarship organizations that provide scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend the school of their parents’ choice.  The program has an annual donation cap of $25 million.

And it looks like state legislatures are still working to create or expand educational options in New Jersey, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Ohio.


Expanded Program: Governor Rick 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.

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

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