Advocates call 2021 a ‘historic year’ for choice in education


(The Center Square) – As school districts across the United States begin 2022 in distance learning environments or consider doing so due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, parents now have more options as 22 states expanded or created school choice initiatives in 2021.

It’s a silver lining, advocates say, as parents grow frustrated with ever-changing mandates, failed virtual learning outcomes and conflicting views with school boards on a range. of questions.

Last year was a “historic year for choice of school in America,” the American Federation for Children said in its analysis of “school choice victories.”

“A record number of states have passed legislation to create, expand or improve school choice programs, and hundreds of thousands of children are expected to benefit,” he added.

Nearly half of all state legislatures last year increased funding for school choice programs in their state budgets or passed laws to expand or create new education savings accounts or programs. of scholarships. They also notably widened the eligibility requirements to include home schooling, charter schools and private schools.

Four states have created entirely new programs; three created new and expanded programs, and Ohio created the most improved programs of all, according to the analysis. The majority, 14, have expanded or improved their existing school choice programs.

The state legislatures of Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and West Virginia all created new ESA scholarships or programs in 2021, according to the analysis.

Kentucky created its first ESA, a $ 25 million tax credit program, and became the 28th state to have a private school choice program. The choice of private school is now available to students in counties with more than 90,000 inhabitants, according to a new law.

Missouri has created a new $ 25 million ESA program funded by a 100% tax credit. Eligible students, ranked in order of income, include those attending public, charter, virtual, and private schools or those who are home-schooled.

New Hampshire’s ESA program is designed to help families earning up to 300% of the federal poverty line and the state Department of Education predicts it will save the state $ 350 million over the next decade.

A new West Virginia law created a new ESA program, the Hope Scholarship, available to 90% of the state’s students. It allows those who leave the public school system to use the funds for private school tuition, home schooling fees, or other educational expenses.

The state legislatures of Arkansas, Indiana, and Florida have created new and expanded school choice programs.

Arkansas created a new $ 2 million tax credit program to help qualifying low-income students, which includes a 100% tax credit for donors. It also changed eligibility for a state scholarship program to include children of active-duty or reserve members of the U.S. military.

Indiana’s biennial budget broadened the eligibility criteria and increased the tax credit cap for its tax credit voucher and scholarship program and created a new ESA program. It has also allocated additional funds to its specific grant needs from ESA and the Charter and Innovation Network.

Florida’s new laws expanded the state’s scholarship programs and created a new ESA program. They expanded household income eligibility, increased the number of scholarships available each year and their amounts, and changed programs to better help students with disabilities, among other measures.

Ohio’s budget increased funding for its EdChoice and Cleveland scholarships, broadened eligibility criteria, and increased the value of special needs scholarships. It also doubled facility funding for brick-and-mortar charter schools and invested $ 54 million in high-quality charter schools. By removing geographic restrictions on the location of charter schools and eliminating state aid deductions from districts, Ohio decided to directly fund scholarship programs and charter schools.

He also created a new state tax credit for individual contributions, allowing students in private schools to be beneficiaries, and created a new ESA program to help low-income students.

Ten state legislatures (Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota) expanded their existing school choice programs last year, some by record amounts .

Georgia has expanded access to its special needs voucher program to approximately 50,000 students. Kansas has expanded its tax scholarship program and removed some eligibility restrictions. Maryland has increased funding by about a third for its “BOOST” scholarship program.

Iowa has increased the cap on its tax credit scholarship program by the largest amount in the program’s history. It also increased tax credits for donations to 75%, doubled the parent tuition tax credit, and made home-schooled families eligible for the tax credit.

Montana has expanded its tax credit and ESA programs, raising the maximum tax credit donors can receive to $ 200,000. The program’s cap has been raised to $ 2 million in 2023, with the possibility of increasing it each year depending on the amount of donations.

Nevada has expanded its scholarship program to $ 22.8 million for the next biennium “and a prejudicial provision preventing children from entering the program has been removed,” the AFC notes.

North Carolina’s budget expanded eligibility for its scholarship program and raised the income threshold to qualify. It also increased the amount of the scholarship to 90 percent of state spending per student for traditional public schools and combined a grant for children with disabilities with its ESA program. The new ESA could provide up to $ 17,000 in aid for students with disabilities.

Oklahoma has also expanded its tax credit scholarship program, increasing the amount of annual tax credits available for scholarship donations to private schools by about a factor of seven.

Pennsylvania has increased funding for its K-12 tax credit program by $ 40 million, which is expected to help an additional 13,000 students.

South Dakota has expanded and changed its eligibility criteria for the Tax Credit Scholarship Program to allow students of any income or application level to apply, including those enrolled in private schools.

While Illinois and Tennessee improved their existing school choice programs, Arizona and Louisiana improved and expanded theirs.

Illinois has extended its tax credit scholarship program for one year. A new law in Tennessee clarifies that funds paid to or on behalf of students participating in the state’s ESA program are exempt from state and local taxes.

Arizona has made it easier to access its ESAs, including allowing all low-income families whose students attend failing public schools to enroll in the program immediately. It also allocated new funds for charter school transportation, increased funding for high performing charter schools, increased the transparency of its open enrollment system, and added $ 1 million to its fee tax credit program. education for children with special needs.

Louisiana has also expanded options for families whose children are enrolled in failing public schools, allowing them to choose a higher-rated school and to appeal to the state if their children are denied enrollment in the school. public of their choice. The state scholarship program has also been changed to expand eligibility and improve accountability.

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