States considering next generation of school choice policies
School Choice policies, particularly Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), are an innovative way to bring customization to K-12 education. The 2016 legislative season is off to a great start with many states pursuing new programs or expanding programs to give more students access to educational opportunities.
Representative Ken Johnson filed HB 84, creating an Education Savings Account program allowing eligible students with special needs to attend the private school or other educational option of their choice. This program would be limited to 1,000 new participating students each academic year.
The Florida Legislature advanced Education Savings Accounts legislation – recently renamed the Gardiner Scholarship Program in honor of its Florida champion, Senate President Andy Gardiner – and it was signed into law January 21 by Governor Rick Scott. SB 672 expands educational opportunities for students with special needs, including 3- and 4-year-olds as well as students with muscular dystrophy and autism spectrum disorder.
A Georgia Representative recently filed a school choice bill, aimed at creating new options for eligible parents to enroll their children in schools or programs that meet their individual learning needs. Representative David Clark, a former Army Ranger, is sponsoring HB 848, which would create the Blue Star Family Scholarship and expand school choice for children of parents in the military.
The Indiana Senate Education Committee recently passed SB 93, a bill that includes a directive to evaluate Education Savings Accounts via a summer study committee. An ESA program can provide parents of students with special needs with access to education options that best suit the needs of their child.
New legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to expand education choice options to all Mississippi families. The state passed their first ESA law in 2015. HB 943, introduced by Rep. John Moore, and SB 2385, introduced by Sen. Buck Clarke, will make the Education Scholarship Account program available to most students in Mississippi. This program will give first preference to students with special needs and then to low income students.
Multiple ESA bills have been filed in the Show-Me state. HB 1888 is a universal ESA bill and will be heard in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on February 15. HB 2307 will be heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on February 16 and, like SB 609, would create a special needs ESA program funded via tax credit-eligible contributions to scholarship granting organizations.
Several ESA bills have been introduced in Oklahoma including HB 2949 by Representative Jason Nelson, HB 3067 by Representative Tom Newell, and SB 1263 by Senator Clark Jolley. These bills are awaiting hearings in their respective chambers.
Two bills to improve Tennessee’s Education Savings Account program for special needs students, known as the Individualized Education Act (IEA), have been introduced. Senate Education Chair Dolores Gresham and House Education Administration and Planning Vice Chair Debra Moody filed SB 1735 and HB 1568, respectively, which clarify the eligibility of kindergarten students and the frequency of IEA account payments. SB 1735 passed the Senate Education Committee on February 10 and will be on the Senate floor on February 17. Senator Gresham and Representative Moody also introduced SB 2504 and HB 2592 to add Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts to the list of allowable IEA expenditures. Students will be eligible to receive funds under the IEA beginning in January 2017.
Background on Education Savings Accounts:
- Education Savings Accounts (also commonly referred to as Education Scholarship Accounts or ESAs) are an innovative way to bring customization to the education system.
- ESAs create a personal approach to education, where the ultimate goal is maximizing each child’s natural learning abilities.
- ESAs utilize accounts created by parents and funded and monitored by the state, which allow parents to direct their child’s funding to the schools, courses, programs and services of their choice – including tuition and fees, curriculum materials, tutoring, online learning, dual enrollment and licensed services such as therapy for students with disabilities.
- Parents are able to save unused funds for higher education expenses in most states – creating an incentive for parents to judge all education service expenses not only on quality but also on cost.
- Currently, ESAs have been enacted in in Arizona (2011), Florida (2014), Mississippi (2015), Tennessee (2015) and Nevada (2015). In the first four states listed, participation is targeted to specific groups of students, including students with special needs. The Nevada program is the first one in the nation to offer ESAs universally to all students in the state.