As individuals and families around the nation celebrated Independence Day and the blessings of freedom and opportunity as American citizens, families are also celebrating the advance of educational freedom across the country.
As the lead editorial in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal notes, 2011 has been “the year of school choice.” Since January, new school choice programs have been enacted in 13 states, and legislation is pending in 28 more. In May, Indiana implemented the largest school choice program in the nation’s history. Arizona put into place perhaps the most innovative school choice plan to date with education savings accounts, and other states like Colorado now offer private school choice for the first time.
And the victories continue. Within the last few weeks, states have passed legislation to give students in Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina greater opportunity to choose the schools that best meet their needs.
Florida, a prominent leader in school choice, will now offer an even greater number of options for families. Last Monday, Governor Rick Scott (R) signed five education bills to enhance choice for students in public, charter, and private schools and to expand opportunities for online learning. The new laws allow students to more easily transfer from underperforming public schools, permit top-performing charter schools to expand more readily, broaden the eligibility for special needs students to receive private school scholarships, include provisions to encourage more corporations to contribute to the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, and expand online courses—previously limited to high school students—to elementary school students.
Wisconsin, another bastion of educational choice, currently operates the nation’s longest-running voucher program in the nation: the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). And last weekend, Governor Scott Walker (R) signed a state budget that included provisions to increase the income eligibility for families of students who can participate in the MPCP and completely lift the cap on the number of children who can receive the scholarships. Furthermore, families in neighboring Racine County will now enjoy a similar school choice program. As a result of the changes, approximately 65 percent of Milwaukee families will be eligible for the MPCP, and within three years, roughly 60 percent of Racine County families will be able to receive private school scholarships.
Similarly, this past Thursday, Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) signed the state’s budget, which included provisions to broaden two of the state’s already-operating school choice programs and create an entirely new program that allows special needs students the opportunity to attend private schools of their choice. The state will now be the only one in the country to offer four private school choice programs, including scholarships for students in failing public schools, scholarships for low-income students, and two programs for students with special needs.
Finally, North Carolina not only completely lifted the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state—previously limited to 100—but enacted its very first private school choice program. Parents of students with special needs will now be able to receive a non-refundable tax credit of up to $3,000 per semester ($6,000 per year) “for expenses related to private school tuition and other educational services.” Roughly 10,000 families are estimated to benefit from the program.
Still there are many hurdles to overcome. For example, the Pennsylvania legislature recently failed to pass a bill for a private school choice program, and earlier this year a Georgia court ruling took aims at limiting charter schools. But overall, the scene is promising.
In the Land of the Free, it is encouraging to see states taking steps to ensure that all children have the opportunity to receive the best education possible. Empowering parents with greater freedom to choose the course of their children’s education is crucial not only to give students the hope for a bright future but to secure a strong and prosperous future for America.
Learn more about the exciting school choice advances across the country in 2011 at Heritage’s Choices in Education page.