School-Choice Legislation Finds Favor in States This Year
cross-posted from the State EdWatch blog
by Andrew Ujifusa
From creating new tax-credit scholarship programs to expanding existing school voucher programs, an increasing number of states have been active on school-choice issues this year, writes Elaine Povich in a good write-up for Stateline. Using data from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Povich writes that 13 states have either created new school-choice programs or expanded their existing ones this year. That's a marked increase from 2012, when eight states created or expanded school-choice programs. In 2011, seven states did so.
Using NCSL's bill-tracking tool, you can break down the data even further to show that five states (Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin) expanded existing voucher programs this year. And eight states enacted tax-credit scholarship or tax-deduction legislation. Povich focuses on the creation of Alabama's tax-credit program this year, a school-choice push that generated a lot of controversy that I covered back in March. South Carolina also created a new tax-credit scholarship program this year, while North Carolina was the only state to initiate a new voucher program in 2013.
Wisconsin took a unique path by creating a tax deduction specifically for private school tuition and fees—that's distinguishable from a tax credit because the latter directly reduces how much you owe, while a deduction reduces the amount of taxable income you claim. And through legislation classified by NCSL as a school-choice bill, Arkansas enacted what's commonly known as a "Tim Tebow bill" allowing home-schooled students to participate in interscholastic activities like sports.
In total, Cunningham told me in an email, 35 states have considered some form of school-choice legislation this year.
One other state on this list worth noting is Georgia, which did a big rewrite of its tax-credit scholarship law this year after problems with transparency and other issues were revealed. As Maureen Downey at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's "Get Schooled" blog points out, the state has been unable to answer basic questions about the tax-credit program, such as: How many students actually went to public school the year before they received a scholarship?
The Georgia legislation expands the program, but also seeks to provide more information about the program and requires public-school attendance immediately prior to receipt of the scholarship for students. (Page 28 outlines that change.) Perhaps the question itself, not any potential answer, spurred the new public-school attendance requirement in the bill.