by Brian Washington
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Education Votes recently reported that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been cutting backroom deals with state politicians across the nation to promote voucher legislation at the expense of public schools.Vouchers divert essential resources—taxpayer dollars—from public schools to private and religious schools and, despite claims from school-choice proponents, they offer no real “choice” for the overwhelming majority of students.
Within the last six years, voucher schemes have been implemented in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. They’re often referred to as education savings accounts, tuition tax credits, or opportunity scholarships. But no matter how proponents try to hide the truth, educators realize a voucher is still a voucher.
With ALEC’s renewed commitment to pushing vouchers in 2017, educators, parents, and entire communities need to be on alert. With that in mind, here are five states to keep an eye on regarding proposed voucher schemes.
The Nevada Supreme Court recently put the brakes on the state’s voucher program passed in 2015, because it violated a constitutional mandate to adequately fund public education. The program was to give parents with kids who transferred out of public schools $5,100 to use at a private school. Republican Governor Brian Sandoval recently introduced a budget that included $60 million to revive the voucher program. This time the proposal would have to pass a Democratic-controlled legislature, which has expressed opposition to using public tax dollars to subsidize private schools.
Virginia currently has the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credit Program, enacted in 2013. Once again, this is just another fancy name for a voucher program that gives tax credits to businesses and individuals who donate to organizations that grant scholarships for private-school tuition. Only those students coming from a family with a household income less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible to receive a scholarship. However, this week, the State House Appropriations committee approved legislation to expand vouchers for all students—not just those living in poverty who decide to transfer to a private school. These types of tax breaks drain funding away from vital government services like public education. Keep in mind, last year, Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed a voucher bill the legislature approved.
Currently, Nebraska doesn’t have a voucher scheme, but two bills have been introduced in the state that would definitely be classified as voucher programs—LB 118, which would set up education savings accounts, and LB 295, a bill to create opportunity scholarships. Both bills would use public dollars to subsidize private schools. Lawmakers held a hearing on LB 188 this week.
State lawmakers in Iowa have also introduced education savings accounts legislation for grades K-12. Under the Education Savings Grant Program, parents would receive public dollars when their kids transfer from a public to a private school or choose to be home schooled (which is currently unregulated in Iowa). Meanwhile, Iowa currently has the Iowa School Tuition Organization Tax Credit program. Once again, similar to the Virginia program described earlier, under this program, enacted since 2006, those who contribute to a scholarship fund to pay for private school tuition would receive a tax credit worth up to 65 percent of their donation.
During his state of the state address, Governor Eric Greitens advocated for education savings accounts for parents of special needs children. Under Greitens proposal, parents would be allowed to use taxpayer dollars to cover tuition at private schools. Keep in mind, private schools, not just in Missouri but nationwide, are not required to meet IDEA requirements that ensure that special needs students get the services they need. A state senator recently took Governor Greitens’ proposal a step further and introduced a bill that would expand the voucher program to include all K-through-12 students.
These are just some of the states that may be facing a possible voucher threat. Voucher legislation is also expected in Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. And if you take ALEC representatives at their word (and you should), thanks to their backroom wheeling and dealing, voucher legislation may be coming to a legislative session near you.