State Policy Network
2019 in Review: Wins in education

2019 was a big year for education reform in the states. State think tanks across the country advanced reforms to their state’s school choice policies—giving children access to a quality education, regardless of where they live.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, Commonwealth Foundation, Empower Mississippi, and Mississippi Center for Public Policy all helped pass school choice policy in their respective states. Pioneer Institute helped restore state funding for religious school nurses, while Idaho Freedom Foundation spurred a statewide debate on Common Core repeal. All are examples of the Network fighting to improve education opportunity for all Americans.

Keep reading to learn more about these success stories, as well as other education wins across the states. Congratulations to these organizations for their success in expanding education choice so that every student has greater opportunity and hope for a better future.

ALABAMA

Prior to the start of Alabama’s 2019 Legislative Session, an orchestrated campaign to slander the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA)—Alabama’s tax-credit scholarship program—began. In response, Alabama Policy Institute launched a comprehensive campaign to change the narrative concerning the Act and formed the Alabama Accountability Act Coalition, a group of sixteen state and national organizations dedicated to the preservation and advancement of the Act’s programs. As a result of the Institute’s work, the AAA Coalition’s activism, and strong partnerships within the State House, not one single attempt to repeal the Accountability Act was made in the 2019 Legislative Session.

CALIFORNIA

The California Policy Center won a legal victory over Anaheim Union High School District. In 2017, CPC requested documents from the district, seeking to understand how officials decided their best bet in addressing the mass exodus of families from the district’s troubled schools was to block the exits. The school district refused to hand over the documents, forcing CPC to sue under California’s Public Records Act.

In response to proposed California legislation that would impose a public charter school moratorium in the state, California Policy Center partnered with the California Charter School Association and one local NAACP chapter leader to mobilize parents. The partnership resulted in three local NAACP chapters calling for an end to the NAACP’s charter moratorium position. The bill is being tabled until 2020.

IDAHO

When all of Idaho’s regulations came up for review, the Idaho Freedom Foundation sprang into action and engaged hundreds of Gem State residents who turned in enough petitions to force the Idaho State Board of Education to hold Common Core repeal hearings in at least nine counties across the state. This gave Idahoans the chance to re-litigate the controversial Common Core standards, which haven’t lived up to education reformers’ claims. 

MASSACHUSETTS

Pioneer Institute secured two victories for children enrolled in religious schools when its research served as the basis for the state legislature to restore full funding for parochial school nurses. This research also spurred the US Department of Education to order the state to restore funding for five years of federal special needs support that Massachusetts has been blocking for Bay State parochial schools.

MISSISSIPPI

The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of public charter school funding, a big win for school choice. In the case, the Mississippi Justice Institute represented three parents whose children attend charter schools. “This ruling is a major victory for parents who simply want what every parent wants: the ability to choose the best possible education for their children,” said Aaron Rice, Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute.

In September 2019, Mississippi approved its ninth charter school in the state, giving more education options to Mississippi’s children. Grant Callen, President of Empower Mississippi, noted: “This is an exciting day for folks in and near Greenwood who need a different education option.” Although this is good news for the community of Greenwood, Mississippi, three charter school applications were denied, demonstrating there’s still work to be done. Callen added: “It is critical that we find ways to get more schools approved. Every child deserves education options in their community.” Empower Mississippi also commended the Mississippi Supreme Court decision to leave charter school funding in place.

Mississippi families who had been waitlisted for years hoping for a Special Needs Education Scholarship Account (ESA) received word in July 2019 that the wait is over. For the first time in the program’s history the number of available scholarships increased. In addition, families learned the ESAs will not be awarded by lottery but in order of application, with priority being given to those who have waited longest. Throughout the months leading up to the 2019 legislative session, Empower Mississippi told the stories of families on the waitlist (often for years), desperate for the funds to help them find the best education setting for their children.

PENNSYLVANIA

Pennsylvania school choice legislation caught the attention of The Wall Street Journal this spring—and they have championed the reform in three compelling and timely editorials. Using Commonwealth Foundation data and a study by EdChoice, the Journal challenged Governor Wolf’s veto of a bill that would expand Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarships. Thanks to widespread media attention and public support, lawmakers found a way around the veto to increase tax credit scholarships in the state budget.

After this school choice victory, the Secretary of Education took note. The secretary scheduled a roundtable in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with Commonwealth’s policy team. The secretary hopes to build on state successes like Pennsylvania’s through Education Freedom Scholarships, a national tax credit scholarship program that gives $5 billion back to taxpayers through scholarships for private education.

TENNESSEE

Thanks to the Beacon Center’s nine-year effort, meaningful school choice policy passed in Tennessee in 2019. The Tennessee Governor passed an expanded Education Savings Account (ESA) program for the state, which includes allowing the majority of children in Memphis and Nashville to qualify for an ESA.