Advocates of education reform hailed 2021 as the “Year of School Choice” as seven new school choice programs were created and 21 existing programs were expanded across 18 states. In 2022, more than double this number of states have seen legislation introduced that would expand educational freedom for families.
But the rate of school choice policy proposals becoming law has slowed. Below is a look at notable school choice-related education reform policy wins and defeats in states that have already gaveled out of their legislative sessions for the year.
In Alabama, the Parent’s Choice Act (SB 140) would have provided families with an education savings account of $5,500 for each school-aged child. This money was set to be used to pay for private school tuition, standardized test prep, and homeschooling, among other qualifying education expenses. The measure introduced by Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), stalled in early March, despite passing the Senate Education Policy Committee.
Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook), however, successfully passed an increase to the Alabama Tax Credit Scholarship (SB 261) which could benefit up to 2,000 new students. The program, which provides funds that students can use to attend a private institution, will continue prioritizing students attending a state-designated “failing school.” Currently, 3,431 students use the tax credit scholarship to attend a private or non-failing school. Families who qualify must have a household income at or below 185% of the federal poverty guidelines. The new law increases Alabama’s existing 50% tax liability cap on individual and corporate donations to 100% (not exceeding $100,000).
Rep. Ron Gillham (R-Kenai) introduced two school choice bills in Alaska, neither of which moved out of committee. The first, HB 328, would have allowed interdistrict open enrollment, a policy that provides public school choice to families. There are two types of open enrollment: Interdistrict open enrollment allows families to attend schools outside of their assigned district while intradistrict open enrollment lets families enroll in schools inside their school district, but outside their attendance zone.
The second of Gillham’s failed measures, HB 329, would have provided almost $6,000 in a portable education savings account scholarship for students with disabilities, those attending low–performing schools or who have parents in the military.
SB 63, introduced by the Joint Budget Committee, was amended by Rep. David Ray (R-Maumelle) to increase the Succeed Scholarship program from $3.3 million to $6.3 million. Starting in the fiscal year 2023, the scholarship’s one-time federal funds were set to run dry and would no longer cover some 200 current recipients, the majority of which are students with dyslexia and other disabilities. Although the amendment repeatedly failed to garner enough votes from the bipartisan, bicameral committee, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson secured additional appropriations from an emergency education relief fund to boost the program’s funding.
If a Colorado school was required to be on a turnaround plan for 5 consecutive years, Rep. Dan Woog’s (R-Erie) HB 22-1207 would have allowed any of those enrolled students to take their $5,000 per-pupil funding through education savings accounts to attend a private or charter school.
Sen. Paul Lundeen (R-Monument) presented SB 22-039, creating the Hope Scholarship Program, in order to provide individual students with funds to directly pay for various education expenses of their choice.
Sen. Rob Woodward (R-Loveland) sought to establish learning pods that could be eligible for those Hope Scholarship dollars in SB 22-071. Learning pods and micro-schools are becoming increasingly popular education alternatives.
None of these reforms moved out of their assigned committee.
In Connecticut, two initiatives that did pass from their assigned committees both failed to become law.
SB 229, introduced by Sen. Anthony Nolan (D-New London), was an attempt to streamline the public charter school authorization process. Instead of the legislature allocating operational funds for each newly established charter school, a grant would be funded directly and operated by the Board of Education under the bill. Language, however, did mandate that no more than two new charter school applications could be approved each year.
HB 5283, introduced by Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan (D-Bethel), would have created a new student-centered funding formula for Connecticut’s K-12 school system. The language also provided students a choice program if attending interdistrict magnet schools and vocational agriculture programs.
Rep. Kim Williams (D-Wilmington) introduced HB 270 in the hopes of streamlining the application process for charter schools and other education alternatives. The bill also gives admittance priority to siblings of already enrolled students. The bill awaits a signature from Democrat Gov. John Carney to become law.
The Georgia Educational Freedom Act (SB 601), introduced by Sen. Butch Miller (R-Gainesville), was defeated on the Senate Floor this spring. If passed, the bill would have provided $6,000 annually for students to cover private school tuition and other education costs like tutoring, specialized therapies and homeschool curriculum. The House version, HB 999, was introduced by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R-Woodstock).
HB 517, introduced by Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta) has been signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. The reform will double the cap on donations to student scholarship organizations. It is estimated that 4,000 additional Georgia students will gain access to additional educational choices each year because of this move.
The Strong Students Grant Pilot Program was introduced in the House as HB 1834 by Rep. Troy Hashimoto (R-Maui) and in the Senate as SB 2816 by Sen. Michelle Kidani (D-Mililani). The proposals would have created a one-year pilot program where students (prioritizing those from low-income families) could receive $1,000 to purchase educational equipment or therapies. Neither version of the reform advanced.
Rep. Val Okimoto (R-Honolulu) introduced the School Choice Scholarship Program (HB 2326) which would have secured funds for families with proven financial need to enroll in a nonpublic school of their choosing. The bill was stalled in Committee.
In Idaho, the Self-Directed Learner initiative (S 1238), which mirrors the innovative approach New Hampshire has taken to learning that happens outside of the classroom, passed the legislature and was signed by Republican Gov. Brad Little. Under the new law schools can grant academic credit to students taking authorized advanced courses or engaged in extracurricular activities and even part-time jobs. The bill was introduced by Sen. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett).
The Empowering Parents Grant Program (S 1255), introduced by Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls), was also signed into law by Gov. Little. The program provides $1,000 per student (with a maximum of $3,000 per family) to cover educational expenses such as technological equipment, textbooks, standardized testing fees, and other educational services. The grant will be offered first to students in households making less than $60,000 per year, followed by $75,000, and then eventually becomes available to any student, regardless of family income. Funding is initially derived from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Instead of seeing those dollars consumed by the general education budget, legislators are directly sending them to families.
Gov. Little did, however, veto H 723 which would have changed the way students are counted in the state’s education funding formula. Under the legislation, instead of measuring average daily attendance (ADA), the state would measure using full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE-E). Idaho is only one of seven states currently using the outdated ADA formula.
Additionally, H 669, the Hope and Opportunity Scholarship Program, introduced by Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley), was defeated in the House Education Committee. It would have established a $5,950 education savings account for families to use on private school tuition, tutoring, laptops, special-needs therapy, and other approved, education-related expenses.
Rep. Curtis Tarver (D-Chicago) introduced HB 4126 to grant super-priority status to current recipients of the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Program. The new language provides assurance to students that they can continue in their current schools by ensuring if they receive a scholarship one year, they will also receive it next year. The measure is awaiting action by Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds championed The Student First Scholarship. The language was included in SF 2369, a Senate Appropriations Committee initiative, which, among other provisions, would have allowed students in underperforming districts access to roughly $5,000 in state funds which could be used for other educational opportunities. Though it passed the Senate, it stalled in a House subcommittee.
An amendment to budget bill SF 2589, successfully passed and will eliminate the open enrollment deadline of March 1st, which now allows student school transfers throughout the academic year. The bill has been sent to Gov. Reynold for her signature.
SB 61 sought an expansion to the state’s tax credit scholarship for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. This initiative by the Senate Education Committee died in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee.
The Student Empowerment Act HB 2550, introduced by Rep. Patrick Penn (R-Wichita) was also stalled in the K-12 Education Budget Committee. This education savings account measure would have been accessible to students currently eligible for free or reduced lunch or who have been designated to receive at-risk services. Funds would have beenn set aside for educational materials such as tutoring and textbooks, special-needs therapy, and private school tuition.
The Kansas House Ways and Means Committee, however, passed open enrollment reform through HB 2567, which was recently signed into law by Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly. School districts throughout the state will now be required to develop plans and guidelines laying out how many total students the school district can handle, and how many nonresident students they can accept into each grade.
Kentucky Democrat Governor Andy Beshear vetoed HB 9, introduced by Rep. Chad McCoy (R-Bardstown), which sought to provide a permanent charter school funding mechanism based on student enrollment. Lawmakers were successful in overriding the veto, making charter schools in the commonwealth easier to open. While the state’s ban on charter schools was lifted in 2017, none have ever actually been approved, in large part because of funding issues. Kentucky is one of only seven states without a single operational public charter school.
Both education savings account bills, HB 305, introduced by Rep. Josh Calloway (R-Irvington), and SB 50, introduced by Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) stalled in their respective committee. They were attempts to expand the program passed into law last year, as well as address issues cited by a recent judicial ruling.
The Right to Learn Act, introduced through HB 737 by Del. Jeffrey Ghrist (R-Caroline), stalled in the House Ways and Means Committee. It would have established the Right to Learn Program to provide students attending a failing school with scholarships for an alternative education plan.
Del. Delegate William Wivell’s (R-Washington) education savings account measure HB 1156 never moved past the House Appropriations Committee. It allows any student to receive funds to pay for educational expenses, such as non-public school tuition, textbooks, uniforms, tutoring, and therapeutic services.
SF1525 introduced by Sen. Roger Chamberlain (R-Lino Lakes) and HF 1528 introduced by Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) would have created education savings accounts to meet the costs of tutoring or supplemental curriculum, mental health treatment, special education services and therapy, or tuition at a non-public school.
Neither measure made it to the governor’s desk.
Sen. Rick Brattin’s (R-Harrisonville) education savings account program, SB 841, stalled in the Missouri Senate Education Committee. It would have reduced the current program’s existing restrictions, including lifting the $25 million dollar cap and eliminating geographic boundaries.
Comprehensive open enrollment reform nearly passed the General Assembly this year through Rep. Brad Pollitt’s (R-Sedalia) HB1814. While the original language did not succeed, Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin’s (R-Shelbina) SB 681, a much narrower version primarily allowing families who own residential or agricultural property to send their children to any school within the district they pay taxes, did succeed and has been sent to Republican Gov. Mike Parson.
Mississippi saw the defeat of an education savings account reform, the Mississippi Scholarship Act bill (HB 874), introduced by Rep. Chris Brown (R-Littleton), along with bills HB 1349 introduced by Rep. Jansen Owen (R-Poplarville) and SB 2177 introduced by Sen. Chris Johnson (R-Hattiesburg) that would have established open enrollment reform for public school students in the state.
LB 364, the Opportunity Scholarship, introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (R-Elkhorn) in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature, would have provided low-income students a path to attend private schools through state tax breaks. After failing to garner enough votes to cut off an eight-hour, bipartisan filibuster, the bill died.
HB 607 would have created school vouchers for parents between $291-$41,000 per student to use on education-related costs such as non-public school tuition. The reform, introduced by Rep. Kevin Verville (R-Rockingham) was tabled early this winter.
The Charter Schools Facility Improvements bill (HB 43), introduced by Rep. Joy Garratt (D-Albuquerque), passed and was signed into law by Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The measure standardizes public charter school facility funding and allows the state to loan funds for their capital projects, including renovation and construction, as well as paying off lease-purchase agreements. School districts will also be required to make any facility available for lease or purchase to charter schools if not in use for educational purposes.
In Oregon, SJR 201 was filed to establish the right of parents to choose the school their child attends. The measure was introduced by Sen. Arthur Robinson (R-Cave Junction) and stalled in the Senate Education Committee.
South Dakota saw a school choice victory through SB 71 which increased the South Dakota Partners in Education, an education savings account scholarship, from a maximum of $2 million to $3.5 million. At least 143 South Dakota students were on a waiting list to obtain the scholarship for private schools before the increase passed. The measure was introduced by Sen. Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) and signed into law by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
Tennessee House Leader William Lambert (R-Portland) and Senate Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) moved a historic overhaul of the K-12 funding formula through both chambers that was signed into law by Republican Governor Bill Lee. The Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) (HB 2143/SB 2396) establishes a student-centered funding system, as opposed to the resource-based model of the past.
Utah saw the Hope Scholarship Program (HB 331) defeated by the House of Representatives after Republican Gov. Spencer Cox vowed to veto the reform, even if passed. The scholarship, introduced by Rep. Candice Pierucci (R-Herriman), would have given priority to low-income children experiencing documented and reported bullying in their currently enrolled school.
HB 1215 would have allowed parents to apply for a $7,000 per child education savings account scholarship for the costs of educational materials such as tutoring or textbooks, as well as private school tuition. The measure was introduced by Rep. Vicki Kraft (R-Vancouver) but did not advance. Some 130,000 students would have been eligible, with 25% specifically earmarked for students who are homeless, in foster care, have special needs or come from low-income families.
In West Virginia, the recently passed SB 268 will allow both micro-schools and education pods to be established in the state and ensures there are no enrollment caps for either such program. The measure was introduced by Sen. Amy Grady (R-Mason) and signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
Democrat Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of AB 970 could not be overridden by the state legislature. The measure, introduced by Rep. Robert Wittke (R-Racine), would have universalized the state’s voucher program by striking enrollment and income limits for all Wisconsin students.
Gov. Evers also vetoed AB 122, defining and establishing “micro education pod” programs (referring to a program provided to between two and ten family units at a physical location). The measure was introduced by Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) and would have also added the new term to all current homeschooling statutes.
HB 138, introduced by Rep. Ocean Andrew (R-Laramie), sought to establish the Hope Scholarship, allowing funds to be distributed to students and made eligible for private school tuition, tutoring, therapies, transportation, and other education-related expenses. The reform was defeated on the House Floor.