Millions of American children do not receive a quality education that sets them up for success. A good education leads to opportunity, but unfortunately, it’s out of reach for so many.
All Americans, regardless of political leanings, believe their children deserve an education that prepares them for college, a career, and life. How can we reach that goal? One way is through school choice policies, or state laws that give parents more choice when it comes to educating their children.
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and tax credit scholarship programs are examples of school choice policies that empower parents to make the best educational choices for their children. In 2022, several states adopted these policies, and that momentum is continuing in 2023.
With the help of state think tanks, or policy organizations that try to improve the lives of the people in their communities, more states are adopting school choice polices in the new year. Here are 10 states to watch in 2023.
The demand for school choice in Arkansas is growing. The Arkansas Policy Foundation recently released a fact sheet that notes 110,000 Arkansas students attend charter, home, or private schools. That number may grow in 2023, as the new Arkansas Governor noted she is working with state lawmakers to adopt parental empowerment policies in the state.
In 2022, Georgia almost passed a school choice program that would have created state-funded Promise Scholarships of up to $6,000 a year. Adopting an ESA program is a priority for the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO). In addition, GCO is encouraging lawmakers to increase the cap on the state’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
Buzz Brockway, executive vice president of public policy for GCO, said “This legislative session, Georgia lawmakers must build on the progress we’ve made in recent years by approving Education Scholarship Accounts to ensure educational access for all.”
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, another state think tank in Georgia, is also working to advance an ESA bill in the Georgia Legislature. The Foundation recently released a paper that highlights the benefits of an ESA program in the Peach State.
The Idaho Freedom Foundation is continuing their efforts in 2023 to encourage the state to adopt policies that put parents and students first. “For about 50 years, Idaho politicians have tried unsuccessfully to expand education choice,” said Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “That could change with the 2023 Legislature, which is more conservative than at any time in modern state history.”
Idaho lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill that would create a universal ESA in the state (similar to the ESA programs that passed in Arizona and West Virginia).
Iowa lawmakers are considering ESA legislation that would give families an ESA of about $7,600 to pay for education related items and services, including private school tuition. On January 23, 2023, the bill passed the Iowa Legislature, and the Iowa Governor is expected to sign it as soon as today.
Iowans for Tax Relief (ITR) Foundation has played a key role in advancing ESA legislation in the Iowa Legislature. In 2021, ITR Foundation (formerly TEF Iowa) helped Iowa lawmakers pass tax credit scholarship programs that provide families with more education options. The Foundation also helped build support for an ESA program in the Hawkeye State. The ESA bill failed in 2021, but the organization continued to educate lawmakers about the benefits of ESAs and how they help Iowa students.
Remarking on the passage of an ESA program, John Hendrickson, Policy Director at the Foundation, added: “This is historic because it builds up previous educational reforms to expand parental choice in Iowa. No longer will a child’s educational opportunity be blocked because of their zip code or socioeconomic status. This bill is not about dollars, but it is about creating life-changing opportunities for families across Iowa.”
The Nebraska Governor noted that giving parents and students more education options is a priority for 2023. Jim Vokal, CEO of the Platte Institute, added: “Tax credit scholarships remains a priority for both Nebraska and the Platte Institute. This would be the first school choice initiative adopted by the state and we are optimistic about its approval.”
On January 19, the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives announced that the Florida House’s first legislative priority will be passage of a highly-innovative flexible scholarship program that will make every Florida student eligible for school choice assistance.
The James Madison Institute noted the Speaker’s initiative is notable because it closes some existing gaps in scholarship eligibility and gives greater flexibility to families participating in the Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) program. The Institute has played a key role in Florida’s adoption of school choice policies over the years and will continue to work with lawmakers to adopt more reforms in 2023.
In early January, the Ohio Governor signed legislation that improves the state’s ESA program, including increasing the amount in the education savings account program to $1,000 and expanding eligibility to more Ohio families. The Buckeye Institute recommended these reforms and continues to lead the charge in persuading lawmakers to adopt reforms that will enable greater school choice policies to move forward in 2023. These include adopting universal eligibility for vouchers or a universal ESA program.
Oklahoma is considering legislation that, if passed, would provide the largest expansion of school-choice opportunity in state history. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) provided an overview of the bills here.
OCPA has worked for years to improve K-12 education in Oklahoma and give more families options when it comes to their child’s school. The organization is continuing their efforts to advance school choice during this year’s legislative session.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation will continue their efforts to advance polices that put parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to their child’s education. Their efforts may prove fruitful in 2023, as state lawmakers are expected to advance school choice polices, including an ESA program.
In his State of the State address in early January, the Texas Governor noted his support for school vouchers and said parents deserve the freedom to choose the education that’s best for their child.
On January 20, 2023, the Utah House passed an Education Savings Account bill (the “Utah Fits All Scholarship”) that would offer $8,000 per student to access an education that meets their needs. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.
State Policy Network has been leading a coalition in Utah to garner support for a universal ESA program. The coalition, which includes partners such as Libertas Institute, Yes Every Kid, and EdChoice, is educating lawmakers about how more schooling options can lead to better education outcomes for Utah children and their families.
What States Passed School Choice Policies in 2022?
State Policy Network
Everything You Need to Know About Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)
State Policy Network
All of the ways the school choice movement is winning at the state level
State Policy Network in the Washington Examiner