The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with which the author is affiliated, released on January 7 a collection of model legislation intended to help state legislators create workable school reform bills that have the best possible chance of standing up to court challenges.
As the 2005 legislative sessions get underway, many state legislatures across the country will continue or begin debates regarding a variety of school choice initiatives. To ensure the laws’ strength and effectiveness, legislators and choice advocates alike must be prepared to defend key provisions through the legislative process. To aid in that task, a team of state legislators and national school choice experts teamed up through ALEC to create model legislation.
“The American Legislative Exchange Council has taken the lead in offering a wide range of model school choice bills that state legislators can bring to their states,” said Robert Enlow, executive director of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation and private-sector chairman of ALEC’s Education Task Force.
Several Model Bills Offered
At the 2004 States and Nation Policy Summit, held December 1-4, the ALEC Education Task Force met to discuss the school choice movement. Several legislators teamed up with the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, Alliance for School Choice, Institute for Justice, K12, and Connections Academy to recommend six strong model bills that take many legislators’ experiences and nationwide experts’ opinions into consideration.
“These model bills arm state legislators with the most comprehensive school choice legislation available,” Enlow said.
The Education Task Force passed all of the following model bills unanimously. The ALEC Executive Board is currently reviewing the legislation. Here is a brief summary of the model bills and their purpose:
- The Family Education Tax Credit Program (Combination of Scholarship Tax Credits and Tuition Tax Credits) creates a family education tax credit for payment of tuition, fees, and certain other educational expenses and a tax credit for individual and corporate contributions to organizations that provide educational scholarships to eligible students so they can attend the school of their parent’s choice.
- The Great Schools Tax Credit Program authorizes a tax credit for individual and corporate contributions to organizations that provide scholarships to eligible students so they can attend qualified schools of their parents’ choice.
- The Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Means-tested Eligibility–Sliding-Scale Scholarship Amounts) creates a scholarship program for children from low- and middle-income families to attend the elementary or secondary school of their parents’ choice.
- The Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Universal Eligibility–One Scholarship Amount) creates a scholarship program for all children to attend the elementary or secondary school of their parents’ choice.
- The Special Needs Scholarship Program provides special-needs students with the option to attend the school of their parents’ choice.
- The Virtual Public Schools Act creates a virtual school program that offers families the option of an independent public school that uses technology via the Internet in order to deliver a significant portion of instruction to its students in a remote setting.
Additional Advice Available
“In addition to offering actual language for legislation, the model bill project provides extensive drafting notes that will walk legislators through the key policy decisions and potential alternatives they should consider when drafting a school choice bill for their state,” said Wisconsin State Rep. Scott Jensen (R), chairman of ALEC’s School Choice Subcommittee. “These drafting notes take states’ constitutions, political climates, and other debates into consideration so that each state would have a legitimate education reform initiative to pursue.”
ALEC began providing its members with copies of these bills and further supporting information on school choice as legislative sessions opened in January.
Lori Drummer ([email protected]) is director of ALEC’s Education Task Force, where she is responsible for overseeing the development of ALEC policy related to education reform and school choice programs.