The Best States For School Choice Programs

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Chrissy Clark Contributor
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Experts are calling 2021 “the year of school choice,” as 19 states enacted and expanded programs that provide students with funding for their education as opposed to government schools.

National Director of Research at the American Federation for Children Corey DeAngelis told the Daily Caller that school choice advocates were awakened amid the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning. DeAngelis claims that teacher unions — many of which pushed for continued school closures — are to thank for the expansion of school choice programs.

“Teachers unions overplayed their hand, showed their true colors, and awakened a sleeping giant: parents. 2021 is the year of school choice,” DeAngelis said. “We should thank [American Federation of Teachers President] Randi Weingarten and her teacher union allies for inadvertently doing more to advance school choice this past year and a half more than anyone could have ever imagined.”

Here are the top 10 best states for school choice programs in 2021:

10. District of Columbia (D.C.)

D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program is a voucher program that allows low-income students to attend private schools. Vouchers can be worth up to $9,161 for K-8 students and $13,742 for students in grades 9-12, though the voucher prices increase annually, according to EdChoice. Leftover money from a voucher can be used to pay for summer school.

The program gives priority to students who attend low-performing public schools in D.C. and to students if their siblings are participating in the program. Families must also earn less than 185% of the federal poverty level — approximately $48,470 as of 2021 — or receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

9. Iowa

Iowa offers tax credits to donors who support school tuition organizations and nonprofit organizations that provide private school scholarships. Students are eligible for the program if their family income does not exceed 400% of the federal poverty guidelines, or $106,000 as of 2021-2022, according to EdChoice.

8. Maine

Maine offers a Town Tuitioning Program, which allows students from an area without a public school to attend public schools in a nearby area or a “non-religious private school.” The program is available to approximately two percent of students, according to EdChoice. The total voucher amount varies county-to-county.

EdChoice points out that the program is one of the most restrictive educational choice programs in the nation. Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program is being debated at the Supreme Court over alleged religious discrimination as the program does not allow students to attend religious schools.

7. Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania offers an Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit that offers corporations tax credits for donating to scholarship organizations that provide scholarships to students who meet income and zoning requirements, according to EdChoice.

Each scholarship organization can determine a given scholarship amount, though they are capped at the price of a school’s tuition or $8,500. Students who attend “economically disadvantaged schools” or have special needs can receive even more. Families with an annual income of $92,160 or lower are eligible for the scholarship programs.

EdChoice called on Pennsylvania legislators to convert the program into an education savings account program and expand the eligibility requirements of the program.

6. Ohio

Ohio offers a scholarship voucher program that allows students who attend “low-performing” public or charter schools to receive a voucher to help them afford private schools. Vouchers max out at $5,500 for grades K-8 and $7,500 for grades 9-12. Participating private schools must accept the voucher as full tuition payment for students whose families are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, according to EdChoice.

Only 29% of Ohio residents are eligible for the scholarship as the program is only available to students who attend a local public school that received a D or F grade by the state’s performance index score. Some charter school carve-outs are available for students as well.

According to the American Federation for Children, Ohio vastly improved its school choice program in 2021. The state eliminated geographic restrictions on the location of charter schools, making it easier to direct funding of scholarship programs and charter schools directly, among other victories.

5. Vermont

Vermont has the oldest school choice program in the nation and offers a Town Tuitioning Program nearly identical to Maine. The voucher program is only available to students who live in an area that does not provide a public school. Vermont’s program faces accusations of religious discrimination as students are unable to use their vouchers on religious schools, according to EdChoice.

4. Indiana

Indiana offers some residents an educational savings account wherein students with special needs can receive a portion of their state education funding for educational expenses. Indiana offers a special carveout for transportation needs, wherein students can spend $750 of their ESA dollars on transportation per year. ESA dollars can also be used on testing fees, extracurricular activities, and occupational therapy.

Parents in Indiana can “rollover” a maximum of $1,000 in unused funds to be used in subsequent years, according to EdChoice. To qualify, students’ families cannot earn more than 300% of the threshold for free or reduced-price lunch. As of 2021, the maximum salary is $147,075.

3. Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s top program for expanding school choice is the state’s private school voucher program, which offers vouchers to students whose families meet lower income qualifications. Students who reside in Milwaukee Public Schools or the Racine Unified School District are exempt from this program, as each district has separate choice programs.

The voucher program offers a maximum of $8,300 for students in grades K-8 and $8,946 for students in grades 9,12, according to EdChoice. Wisconsin families eligible for the program cannot make more than 220% of the federal poverty level or $57,640 as of 2021.

EdChoice experts called on the state to increase the voucher’s maximum dollar amount to be comparable with the state’s per-pupil spending and expand the eligibility to all students.

2. Florida

Florida offers a similar Educational Savings Account program as Arizona. Florida’s program is restricted to students with special needs, whereas Arizona’s program is more expansive. In Florida, parents receive an education savings account administered by a state-approved scholarship-funding organization, according to EdChoice. Parents can use those funds to pay for private schools, specialized tutoring, and more.

According to DeAngelis, Florida could catapult itself to first-place in 2022. Florida passed new legislation that expands household income eligibility and increases the number of scholarships available, according to the American Federation for Children. The expansion of the educational savings account also aligns scholarships with the amount of money spent on per-pupil state funding.

1. Arizona

Arizona offers an Educational Savings Account program wherein parents can withdraw their children from public or charter schools and receive part of their public funding in the form of an educational savings account. Parents and children can use the account to pay for private school tuition, online education, private tutoring, and more, according to EdChoice.

Predictions For Top School-Choice Programs In 2022

Four states expanded or created school choice programs in 2021, though the results of the program will not be seen entirely until 2022. DeAngelis told the Daily Caller that West Virginia now has the best laws for school choice in the nation after starting 2021 off with no school choice programs.

“West Virginia went from 0 to 100 when it comes to educational freedom,” DeAngelis said. “The state didn’t have any charter schools or programs to fund students directly in 2020. But in 2021 they passed the most expansive education savings account program in the nation.”

Here are the states with “gold standard” school choice programs that began in 2021:

1. West Virginia

In March 2021, West Virginia enacted the Hope Scholarship Program, an educational savings account that allows parents to receive the same average per-pupil state funding in a parent-controlled fund for educational costs. Parents can use the money for private school tuition, tutoring, transportation, and more, according to EdChoice.

The legislation is considered one of the most expansive school choice bills in the nation as 93% of students statewide are eligible for the program. Funds that are not used by the end of the year can roll over into the following year as well.

2. New Hampshire

New Hampshire launched an Education Freedom Accounts program — identical to an educational savings account — wherein parents are given savings accounts to spend on tuition, tutoring, online learning, textbooks, and more.

Eligible families must earn less than 300% of the federal poverty line, according to the American Federation for Children. EdChoice dubs the program the “second-most expansive” school choice program in the nation.

3. Kentucky

Kentucky introduced the state’s educational savings account program in 2021. The program allows eligible parents to receive a portion — approximately 40% — of state education funds that can be used for educational expenses such as private schools, tutoring, instructional materials, technology, transportation, higher education courses, and more.

Individuals and businesses that donate to nonprofits and organizations that administer Education Opportunity Accounts can receive tax credits, according to EdChoice.

Families cannot earn more than 175% of the federal poverty level, or $85,794 as of 2021, to qualify for Kentucky’s program. EdChoice called on the state to expand eligibility and increase spending to be on par with public school per-pupil funding.

4. Missouri

Missouri’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program is a tax-credit education savings account created in 2021. Some parents can use the funds to pay for tuition at their desired school as well as tutoring services, extracurricular activities, and educational therapies. Individuals and businesses receive tax credits for donating to nonprofit organizations that administer educational savings accounts.

Eligibility for the educational savings account is more restrictive than in Kentucky. In Missouri, only students from charter counties or cities with a population bigger than 30,000 are eligible, according to EdChoice. Students must be enrolled in public schools for at least one semester, have an Individualized Education Program, or have special needs to qualify for the savings account.

Students whose families make less than 300% of the federal free-and-reduced-price lunch income eligibility levels, which was approximately $98,050 for a family of four in 2021, are also eligible for the program.