Most States Are Pushing Private School Choice Bills, But Some Are Faltering
Lawmakers in at least 34 states have proposed legislation related to private school choice, but that doesn't mean they are becoming reality, according to a bipartisan organization that tracks state issues.
The National Conference of State Legislatures is watching state bills to expand or create new private school choice programs—vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and education savings accounts. Watch an Education Week video explaining the various choice options.
More than half of those state legislatures have advanced bills to some extent, at least out of committee, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But some efforts have failed or are struggling to push forward.
In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, vetoed Republican-sponsored legislation to create education savings accounts, along with other school-choice measures, according to the Virginia Gazette.
The number of bills is similar to recent years, despite the fervor about school choice as a top education issue in the Trump administration, said Josh Cunningham, the conference's education program manager. President Donald Trump's proposed budget calls for $1.4 billion in new federal investments in school choice, including vouchers for private schools.
"I don't think what is happening at the federal level is having an impact at the state level," Cunningham said. "School choice has been going strong since the 2010 elections."
In individual states, lawmakers have a bigger interest in education savings accounts and tax-credit scholarships, instead of straight-up traditional vouchers. Some states have proposals for more than one program. Arkansas and Maryland have amended their existing voucher programs, but only minimally, Cunningham said.
Here's how the various flavors of school-choice measures are shaping up so far:
- Tax-credit scholarships: 21 states, including Mississippi and Virginia where bills failed.
- Education savings accounts: 23 states, including Mississippi and Arkansas, where bills failed; Virginia's bill was vetoed.
- Traditional vouchers: 14 states, including a bill enacted in Arkansas.
Bills are often advancing in states where Republicans have taken power, but they might not move in one chamber or past the governor. Across the nation, Republicans are in control at the state legislature or governor's office in 44 states. In 25 states, they are in control of both.
One struggling state is Texas, where a scaled-down education savings account bill passed the Senate last week, but the House may refuse to hear it, according to the Associated Press.
"It's still fairly early," Cunningham said. "A lot can happen toward the end of sessions."
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