The Leaflet: School Choice Battles Are Brewing

Published March 8, 2019

Across the nation, battle lines are being drawn between teacher unions and politicians over much-needed education reforms. Last week, hundreds of Kentucky public school teachers called in sick to protest a bill that would restructure the state’s exorbitant pension fund. The mass “sick leave” protest forced six Kentucky school districts to close. This week, Bluegrass State public school teachers are planning to hold another protest if a proposal that would establish the state’s first school choice program passes the legislature.

House Bill 205 would create a tax-credit scholarship (TCS) program, which would allow individuals and businesses to fund educational scholarships for special-needs, foster, and low-income children to attend private schools. To incentivize donors to the program, individuals and businesses would receive a substantial tax deduction. The TCS program would cap total donations at $25 million in its first year.

Kentucky school administrators and teachers claim the TCS program would drain school districts of money for salaries and pensions. Fiscal analysis of the bill estimates the state’s general fund could lose up to $21 million in fiscal year 2019–20. However, the analysis does not calculate potential savings due to scholarship children transferring from public schools to private schools.

Nebraska is also considering an important TCS bill this legislative session. The “Opportunity Scholarships” program would operate similarly to the proposed Kentucky TCS. If passed into law, the Opportunity Scholarships program would permit individuals and businesses to donate to scholarship funds for children of low-income households in exchange for a tax credit of 50 percent. The total cap on donations would be $10 million in the initial year, with possible cap increases in subsequent years. If enacted, the TCS program would be the Cornhusker State’s first school choice program.

TCS programs are the most prevalent form of school choice in the nation, with 23 programs in 18 states and more than 1.2 million scholarships granted. TCS programs are extremely popular because they enhance educational outcomes and reduce the taxpayer burden on out-of-control education costs.

A 2016 EdChoice study estimated the fiscal effects of 10 TCS programs (comprising 93 percent of all awarded scholarships). It found these programs saved state and local taxpayers up to $3.4 billion, from their launch dates through 2014, equivalent to about $3,000 saved per scholarship student.

In a 2019 report, the Urban Institute found low-income students in Florida’s TCS program, the nation’s largest, are up to 99 percent more likely to enroll in a four-year college and as much as 56 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than their public school peers.

In a recent Research & Commentary, Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson summarizes the numerous benefits parents and children attain when TCS programs (and other school choice measures) are made available. “Copious other empirical research on tax-credit scholarships and other school choice programs has shown these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. … Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices,” Benson wrote. 


What We’re Working On

Energy & Environment
Fossil Fuels: Feeding the World and Restoring Wildlife Habitat (Guest: Dennis Avery)
In this episode of the Heartland Daily Podcast, author, agricultural researcher, and Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Dennis Avery joins Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett. Avery says development and use of fossil fuels has led to a giant leap in agricultural productivity, making it possible to feed the world’s population. Consequently, millions of acres of former farm lands have been reclaimed by nature, providing vast acres of additional wildlife habitat.

Prospects for School Reform in Texas (Guest: Kent Grusendorf)
In this episode of the Heartland Daily Podcast, former Texas Rep. Kent Grusendorf (R-Arlington) joins Research Fellow Joe Barnett to discuss the prospects for school reform and education choice in the Lone Star State. Grusendorf has been a member of the state school board, a legislator, and a reform advocate at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education. They also discuss other measures to improve America’s education system.

Budget & Tax
E-Cigarettes Help Military Service Members Quit Smoking
In this Research & Commentary, State Government Relations Manager Lindsey Stroud examines a new study that finds military services members smoke at a lesser rate than the general population and that 11.1 percent of military service members report daily e-cigarette use. “It should be very apparent to policymakers that e-cigarettes are an effective smoking cessation tool. E-cigarettes are safer than combustible cigarettes and provide economic gains by reducing health care costs associated with combustible cigarettes. Further, e-cigarette retailers improve local economies by providing new business opportunities and tax revenue,” wrote Stroud.

Health Care
Georgia Legislature Should Address CON Reform
In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines the revived debate in Georgia over the Peach State’s controversial certificate of need program. “The Georgia Legislature’s effort to roll back CON laws is a strong step in the right direction. Ideally, all CON laws should be fully repealed in Georgia,” wrote Glans.

From Our Free-Market Friend
Falsehoods, Misinformation Dominate PERS Secrecy Bill Hearing
Robert Fellner, policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, analyzes a bill that would make secret the names of individuals collecting a public pension in the Silver State. Proponents of the bill claim it is needed to protect retirees from harm and identify theft. However, sensitive information, such as social security numbers, home addresses, and birth certificates, are currently confidential under Nevada law. Fellner argues against the bill, saying that citizens have a right to pension payout data, especially considering Nevada’s public pension system is $13 billion in debt.

Click here to subscribe to The Leaflet, the weekly government relations e-newsletter.