A 2012 report by EdChoice called education savings accounts (ESA) the “most innovative school choice option on the market today,” and highlighted how ESAs are helping to fulfill Milton Friedman’s vision for school choice in the 21st century. At the time, only Arizona had implemented an ESA program, which was limited to only a few groups of students. Five years since that report was published, Arizona has expanded its program to provide universal eligibility by 2021, and other ESA programs have passed in Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee and have been proposed in dozens of other states as well.
One argument against programs allowing private-school choice is the question of their constitutionality, especially in states that have adopted Blaine amendments. States with these anti-Catholic provisions in their constitutions explicitly restrict public dollars from going to religious schools, thereby restricting the expansion of private-school choice.
All that could soon change, however. This week, in a monumental decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7–2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church’s right to apply for publicly available funds, despite the school’s religious affiliation and the state’s Blaine amendment, throwing into question the validity of Blaine amendments throughout the country.
In a press release announcing the Court’s decision, Heartland Senior Fellow Robert G. Holland said, “It might take one more Supreme Court decision to deliver a knockout blow to the bigoted anti-Catholic Blaine amendments of the 19th century, which still persist in two-thirds of state constitutions, and thereby to ensure that parents may use vouchers or ESAs in schools they deem best for their children.”
The ruling opens the door for many more states to implement private-school choice programs with less fear of state or federal courts shutting them down. A new Heartland Policy Brief by Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal education savings account programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the five ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.
Benson concludes, “ESA programs are not a silver-bullet solution to every problem plaguing the nation’s school system, but they certainly allow families much greater opportunities to meet each child’s unique education needs. The goal of public education today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.”
What We’re Working On
Research & Commentary: Empowering Dental Therapists Would Help Solve Ohio’s Dental Shortage
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines a proposal in Ohio that would create a new mid-level care license for dental therapists and allow them to practice under the supervision of a dentist. “Allowing dental therapists in Ohio would help to close gaps in dental-care access and ensure patients receive preventive and restorative treatment when and where they need it,” wrote Glans. Read more
Local Michigan School Board Gets on the Privatization Bus
In this article for School Reform News, Emma Vinton reports the Cedar Springs, Michigan School Board reduced annual spending by $350,000 to $400,000 per year, in addition to $610,000 in one-time revenue, by contracting with a private business to provide transportation services. Starting in August, Dean Transportation, a Lansing-based company, will operate the western Michigan school district’s bussing services. The company will hire the district’s 28 bus drivers and will be responsible for maintaining the buses. “The mission of public schools is to educate children, not to run a transportation company, a food company, or a cleaning company,” said Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, to Vinton. “These ancillary services are best performed by those whose specialty is in those fields. As a bonus, there is often substantial savings for those who do it, and do it correctly.” Read more
Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: States Should Move Away from Grocery Taxes
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines grocery taxes, the problems they create, and how repeal efforts have been stifled in recent years. “Grocery taxes are unpopular, regressive, and play a key role in denying low-income families the nutritious food they need to stay healthy. Instead of imposing burdensome taxes on families, state legislators should focus on encouraging government efficiency; low, broad-based taxes; and placing reasonable limits on spending,” wrote Glans. Read more
Energy & Environment
Research & Commentary: Studies Find Fracking in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas Not Contaminating Groundwater
In this Research & Commentary, Policy Analyst Tim Benson examines two new studies from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas. The studies found no examples of groundwater contamination due to hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The studies add to the existing peer-reviewed evidence that shows hydraulic-fracturing processes do not pose a systemic impact on groundwater. Since 2010, at least 19 of these studies have been produced. These studies are reinforced by the Environmental Protection Agency’s own $29-million, six-year study of fracking’s impact on groundwater sources, which failed to find any systemic impact caused by the 110,000 oil and natural gas wells that have been in use across the country since 2011. Read more
From Our Free-Market Friends
FDA Liberates Your Smartphone
In this article from the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, Policy Analyst Charles Hughes writes about how smartphone application developers have created many new health and fitness apps in the past few years, yet current regulatory requirements deter developers from further innovation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has forged an initiative to create a transparent regulatory framework that will reduce the amount of regulation requirements and encourage more health care innovation. The FDA is planning on launching a pilot program “would entail the creation of a third party certification program which would allow the agency to be more discerning in determining which types of products have to go through premarket review, the most stringent level. In the new framework, lower risk digital health products would be able to bypass the premarket review, and higher risk products would go through a streamlined process, allowing companies to get their developments to market more quickly.” Read more