by Reagan Reese
The school choice movement is gaining momentum as states focus on legislation that would give families greater freedom to select their child’s education, advocates told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Utah, New Hampshire and South Carolina are pushing for more expansive school choice legislation that would increase the value of school choice vouchers and the number of eligible students, while states such as Arizona and Florida have already implemented programs that provide vouchers to students outside of the public school system. The increasing push for more school choice legislation across the country is because other states have provided the model to do so, advocates told the DCNF.
“It’s great news that states across the country are focusing on funding students instead of school systems,” Laura Zorc, executive director of Building Education for Students Together, a group focused on parental rights in education, told the DCNF. “School choice is bound to be a talked about issue in 2023 legislative sessions. I believe that we will see many states opt to advance legislation that replicates the great strides towards school choice that Florida Gov. DeSantis has made.”
DeSantis signed the Family Empowerment Scholarship which initially gave vouchers to 17,000 students and allows an increase in vouchers for 28,000 low-income students seeking a private school education.
Similarly, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law legislation in July that made more than 1.1 million students in public and charter schools eligible to receive up to $6,500 for their education.
In the 2022 midterm election, 76% of candidates supported by the American Federation for Children (AFC), a group working towards more school choice, won their election, Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at the AFC, told the DCNF. Of 69 state legislature seats targeted by the group, school choice candidates flipped 40 seats.
Arizona has provided a blueprint for state lawmakers such as Utah, New Hampshire and South Carolina to enact school choice reforms, DeAngelis told the DCNF.
“The wind is at our backs,” DeAngelis told the DCNF. “This year, Arizona went all-in and passed the biggest school choice victory in U.S. history – all families can now take their children’s state-funded education dollars to the education providers of their choosing.”
“Arizona achieved this win with one-seat GOP majorities in their House and Senate,” DeAngelis continued. “If Arizona can get it done with the slimmest of margins, all other red states should be able to make school choice, a Republican Party platform issue, happen.”
For instance, Vermont has agreed to apply the state’s tuition program to both public and faith-based private schools following a lawsuit which challenged the program for not giving tuition benefits to students who attended religious schools. Students who live in areas without public schools can now receive vouchers to attend private religious schools if they choose.
The New Hampshire Department of Education proposed an increase to their budget, asking for almost $30 million to grow the state’s school choice program, according to NHPR News. The budget increase would widen the state’s school voucher program to homeless and disabled students, students attending the lowest-performing schools in the state and new English language learners.
Currently, New Hampshire’s school choice program gives vouchers of a maximum of $5,000 to 3,000 students, NHPR News reported.
In Utah, Democratic Gov. Spencer Cox is proposing that the state increase educators’ salaries by about $6,000, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The state legislature, a Republican majority, plans to make the raise contingent on a legislation that would include a school voucher program.
Recently elected South Carolina House Education Committee Chair Shannon Erickson plans to pass a school voucher bill in the next year to expand the state’s school choice initiative, according to The State. South Carolina Sen. Larry Grooms recently pre-filed the “Educational Scholarship Trust Fund” bill which would give scholarships to eligible families for private school, instructional materials, educational therapies and online learning.
South Carolina students can currently attend any public school within their school district, though parents are responsible for providing transportation, according to the South Carolina Department of Education.
Missouri State Rep. Josh Hurlbert pre-filed five pieces of school choice legislation, including one which would allow any student to qualify for a state voucher.
“We need to continue to knock down the barriers parents face and work towards truly funding our students – not systems – and allow Missouri students to find their best educational fit,” Hurlbert told the DCNF.
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Reagan Reese is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Teacher and Students” by Ilmicrofono Oggiono. CC BY 2.0.