During the pandemic, millions of parents struggled to maintain their full-time jobs while overseeing their child’s learning at home. Prolonged school closures and virtual learning left many parents frustrated with the traditional school system and hungry for additional education options for their kids.
This growing appetite for more control and options led to several states passing school choice policies in 2021. In fact, during the 2021 legislative sessions, 18 states adopted reforms that give children better access to a quality education.
The momentum for parental choice policies is rolling on in 2022. Right now, more than 35 states are in their legislative sessions, and many states are adopting policies that put parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to their child’s education.
Below is a snapshot of the education policies states are advancing that empower parents to make the best educational choices for their children; fund students instead of systems; and increase academic transparency so parents are aware of what their kids are being taught.
At the beginning of Alabama’s 2022 legislative session, the education freedom movement sweeping the nation appeared to have finally reached Alabama. The Parent’s Choice Act, which would create a full-scale, every-student-eligible school choice program in the State of Alabama was introduced with much fanfare. The Alabama Policy Institute has spent the past months highlighting the importance of school choice through its recently launched full-service media outlet, 1819 News. That campaign, though not enough to ensure the passage of the Parent’s Choice Act, has created a desire in the State House to do something on school choice. Two school choice bills, though tempered compared to this session’s original legislation, are now being seriously considered in Montgomery. API expects them to pass in bipartisan fashion as more Alabamians across the state see the need for choice.
The Alaska Policy Forum is encouraging Alaska lawmakers to adopt a strong reading initiative legislation called Read by Nine. Read by Nine starts by ensuring kindergarteners know the ABCs and the sounds they make. Throughout early elementary school, teachers continue this focus and rely on research-based methods, until by third grade each student can read with ease, understand the material and think critically. Easy-to-use diagnostic tests are used to help teachers identify which students are having difficulties and what solutions will help them.
The Arizona Senate passed academic transparency reform. Backed by the Goldwater Institute, the bill establishes parents’ right to know what is being taught in public schools by requiring those schools to post on a publicly accessible portion of their website a listing of the specific learning materials used at each institution.
The Independence Institute filed a new citizens initiative that expands Colorado’s Open Records Act (CORA) to allow parents to access the teaching materials to be used in their kid’s public school. If the initiative receives enough signatures, it will be on the November ballot in 2022. If it passes, the initiative will give parents the power to see the educational materials their kids are going to see, if they want.
The Delaware Legislature is considering education transparency legislation. The Caesar Rodney Institute explained what the bill would do and noted education transparency is supported by both progressive and conservative parents across the country.
The Florida Legislature advanced a further expansion of the state’s nationally recognized school choice program. In 2021, thanks in part to The James Madison Institute, lawmakers passed the largest expansion of school choice in history. The Institute hopes lawmakers meet a new goal of further expansion this year.
A Georgia Senate committee advanced a school choice bill that would create state-funded Promise Scholarships of up to $6,000 a year. The Georgia Center for Opportunity noted Promise Scholarships step far beyond a typical voucher by fully putting parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to their child’s education. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation launched a social media campaign aimed at delivering information about the benefits of these scholarships to Georgia parents. Unfortunately, the Senate failed to pass the bill.
Illinois lawmakers are considering bills that would expand scholarship opportunities for low-income students and families of modest means of all demographic backgrounds, including thousands of Black and Hispanic students. The Illinois Policy Institute noted Illinoisans should support the preservation and expansion of tax credit scholarships as ways to offer education lifelines to students and families who most need opportunities and choices.
Building on Iowa’s successful school choice legislation of 2021, the Iowans for Tax Relief Foundation continues to inform Iowans of the benefits of additional reforms, including Education Savings Accounts.
Kansas Policy Institute continues its focus this legislative session on providing more educational opportunities for students. In Kansas, education spending makes up more than half of state spending. Student achievement remains stubbornly flat for all children and low-income kids remain at least two grade levels behind their peers. What’s more, recent concerns from across the country about what is being taught in classrooms only serves to highlight the need for Accountability, Choice, and Transparency.
In addition to school choice, KPI is pushing for several education transparency issues, including a Parents Bill of Rights, using the school needs assessments to build budgets, and publishing student achievement in a KPI-designed report card.
A Kentucky lawmaker filed legislation to fund public charter schools in Kentucky. The Bluegrass Institute noted a strong and meaningful charter school policy is a high priority of their organization because it empowers parents with an educational alternative that will place many Kentucky students who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks of our public education system on a path to a brighter future.
The Michigan Senate adopted a bill that asserts “the fundamental rights of parents to direct their children’s education.” The Mackinac Center noted parents have the fundamental right and responsibility to direct their children’s education, and students benefit greatly when schools treat parents as trusted partners. The Center is also promoting education reforms such as opportunity scholarships and enhancing curriculum transparency to give families more control over what and where their child learns.
The Minnesota Legislature is considering a bill to require school districts to post learning materials on their website, bringing much-needed transparency to Minnesota schools. The Center of the American Experiment highlighted how there is broad agreement among Minnesota voters that public schools should be required to make all learning materials available to the public.
A Mississippi lawmaker introduced legislation to students instead of systems. The bill would create the Mississippi Scholarship Program, giving educational funds to send their kids wherever they deem fit. Douglas Carswell, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy (MCPP) noted this is one of the greatest bills placed before the Mississippi state legislature in years.
The Mississippi Senate is also considering legislation that would require public schools to make their educational material easily accessible to the general public. MCPP noted the bill is a step in the right direction and that parents and taxpayers have a right to know exactly what their children are being taught and what their money is being spent on.
The Missouri Legislature advanced a critical piece of legislation that would help to guarantee parents’ role in their child’s education. The Show-Me Institute explained that among other things, this “Parents Bill of Rights” resolution would require curriculum transparency and impose meaningful grading of schools and districts so parents can see how their schools and districts stack up to their peers.
The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy highlighted how the New Hampshire Legislature is considering a bill that would empower voters to create Education Freedom Accounts at the school district level.
The Oklahoma Legislature is considering a bill that creates Oklahoma Empowerment Accounts (OEAs). The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs noted that under the bill, parents can use taxpayer funds to choose any education option, including private schools, that best serve their child’s needs. If passed, this would create one of the most robust school-choice programs in the nation and make Oklahoma a national leader in education opportunity.
The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee approved a bill to expand Pennsylvania’s successful and popular tax credit scholarship programs. The Commonwealth Foundation noted the bill would allow the scholarship programs, which provide tuition assistance for qualifying students to attend private schools, to expand as more students seek to access them. In February 2022, Commonwealth released a report that found
The South Dakota Legislature passed a school choice expansion bill. The American Federation for Children noted the legislation expands the eligibility and funding for the Partners in Education Tax Credit Program.
In 2022, the Beacon Center of Tennessee has called on legislators to allow parents to take their money and walk away if school districts (or the unions that often drive their decision-making) refuse to listen when parents say that their children learn best in-person. Beacon is also pursuing solutions to overhaul Tennessee’s outdated and dysfunctional education funding system by moving to a student-based model, which has been proposed by the Tennessee Governor.
The Utah Legislature is considering the Hope Scholarship—a program that puts parents in control of the amount of money each child is assigned in the base budget for education. The Libertas Institute expressed their support for the bill and noted most parents support funding students and not systems.
On March 1, 2022, the nation’s most expansive ESA program officially opened for applications: the Hope Scholarship. As of May 9, applications approached 1,000 with the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy beginning its outreach efforts including postcards to 75,000 households with children, billboards in West Virignia’s five largest cities, and robust digital marketing efforts.
The Institute for Reforming Government, along with its partner organization IRG Action Fund, helped the Wisconsin Legislature develop and advance a historic K-12 education reform package that gives every child access to a school voucher, breaks-up the failing Milwaukee Public School district, creates a statewide charter authorizer, and enacts a Parental Bill of Rights. This includes, but is not limited to, testifying, waging an aggressive public relations campaign, and finding community leaders to voice their support, like a former Milwaukee school teacher and more than 1,000 parents to sign petitions. Not only do these bills dramatically increase the number of educational options for students, they also represent a step forward in putting students and families above Wisconsin’s education establishment. The bills are on their way to Governor Tony Evers’ desk where IRG is urging him to sign them into law.
The Wyoming state Senate passed the Civics Transparency Act—legislation that empowers parents to find out what’s being taught in their local schools by ensuring that all materials used in government-operated K-12 schools are disclosed to parents and the public. The Goldwater Institute noted that with this vote, Wyoming joins a host of other states who have not only introduced legislation requiring the online disclosure of public school instructional materials, but have already passed it through one or both chambers.