One of the ways we can truly invest in our children’s education is to provide parents with more flexibility,… When parents are given greater flexibility in school choice, children win.
— said Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona in his press release introducing the School Choice Education Savings Account Act of 2014.
Salmon’s bill, which would allow parents to use 529 tax savings accounts for certain K-12 expenses as well as college expenses, is one of three pieces of legislation regarding school choice currently before Congress.
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina echoed Salmon’s assertions in his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, calling for the U.S. to “set free all of the potential in our kids in our country, through school choice.” Sen. Scott sponsored the CHOICE Act, which aims to “expand opportunity through greater choice in education.”
The final piece of legislation, the Scholarships for Kids Act, would redirect $24 billion in current federal education funding to create $2,100 federal scholarships for low-income children to attend any public or private school of their choice. School choice is also gaining attention at the state level. According to the Friedman Foundation, as of February Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island all had legislation pending regarding school choice. Arizona, which already has a one-of-a-kind education savings account (ESA) program in place, is seeking to expand its programs even further. Three bills before the Arizona Congress would expand ESAs to the children of military members and public safety employees, as well as those who qualify for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch programs, as well as the siblings of current ESA students.
Mississippi and Missouri are looking to follow Arizona’s example. According to Heartland, both states are looking to create ESA programs for special-needs children. Iowa is also looking to create the first ESA program to provide universal eligibility. Rhode Island is trying to establish a sliding-scale voucher based on parental income, while Idaho is trying for a $10 million dollar tax-credit scholarship program.
Major attention is being given to the subject of school choice, at both the state and federal level. Between the recent uproar over New York Mayor de Blasio continuing to take heat for closing a chain of charter schools and the spotlight cast on school choice at the Conservative Political Action Conference, it seems that education policy may take center stage in the 2016 election. What do you think that will mean for school choice, both public and private? What changes would you like to see in your state’s education policies?