The Leaflet: States Continue to See a Wave of School Choice Measures

Published February 26, 2016

States Continue to See a Wave of School Choice Measures 

School choice issues have been a top priority for state legislatures in 2016. On Monday, the ArizonaSenate approved the expansion of an education savings account (ESA) program that will by 2020 allow every public school student in the state to use state-funded accounts to attend a private school or to pay for other approved educational expenses. A bill to further expand the ESA program in Oklahoma passed through committee on Monday. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has announced his support of a bill that would expand the availability of Mississippi’s ESA program to virtually all school-aged children in the state. In Indiana, lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow voucher students to switch schools during the middle of the school year, taking their education dollars with them.

Vouchers and ESAs give parents the freedom to choose a private school for their children, using all or part of the public funding set aside for their children’s education. Currently, 14 states and Washington, DC have voucher programs in place, and ESA programs are now in place in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee.

In Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues,published in 2016, Heartland Project Manager for Education Transformation Lennie Jarratt wrote, “Improving America’s public and private K–12 schools is the most urgent public policy challenge of our era. Poor-performing school put at risk our ability to pass along to the next generation the essential core of knowledge that makes civilization possible. What happens in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools profoundly affects the United States’ economic competitiveness and the abilities and values of the next generation of adults.”

Research shows school choice improves educational outcomes for those who attend choice schools and for those who remain in traditional public schools. In Milwaukee, for example, competition from choice schools is forcing the Milwaukee Public Schools district to improve. Research conducted by Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas shows the introduction of the city’s “voucher program … has led to increased achievement for the children who remain in Milwaukee’s public [schools] while saving the state millions of dollars.”

The Heartland Institute has spent more than 30 years researching and writing on school reform topics. Over that period, it has become clear to Heartland’s researchers the key to radically improving education in the United States is the creation and promotion of school choice programs that empower parents and students.

The Heartland Institute is available to send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on this or other topics.

More Common Core Promises Evaporate
Despite Common Core’s promise of providing equal, nationwide benchmarks for student learning in math and reading, a new study finds proficiency levels on Common Core tests vary widely, and almost all are below what the National Assessment of Educational Progress considers “basic.” Heartland Institute Research Fellow Joy Pullmann says in this issue of School Choice Weekly that new Common Core-aligned tests also appear to be inflating student proficiency. Read more

Constitutional Reform 
Research & Commentary: Oklahoma Balanced Budget Amendment
Oklahoma is one of six states to file an application calling for a single-subject convention solely for the purpose for enacting a balanced budget amendment. Twenty-seven states have already enacted Article V resolutions. Oklahoma’s legislation would require the total of all estimated federal revenues in any fiscal year to be greater than or equal to the total of all federal appropriations made by Congress, in addition to any related and appropriate fiscal restraints. In this Research & Commentary, Kyle Maichle writes, “The states have an obligation to address the threat caused by the national government’s irresponsible spending practices. A balanced budget amendment would be a big step in the right direction, and the single-subject approach is a viable one that has been successful when utilized in other state legislatures.” Read more

Budget & Tax
Research & Commentary: Georgia Income Tax Reform

Since 2012, an increasing number of states have been looking into ways to reform their tax codes. The Tax Relief Act, a new proposal sponsored by Georgia state Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), would cut the state income tax for individuals down to a flat rate of 5.4 percent, increase the personal exemption by $2,000 per person, eliminate the marriage penalty, and eliminate Georgia’s Corporate Net Worth Tax. In this Research & Commentary, Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans argues reducing the tax burden on individuals and businesses is good public policy. “States should lower and flatten their tax systems so there are as few tax brackets as possible. States can start lowering corporate taxes by eliminating corporate tax exemptions, subsidies, and credits, thereby creating a fairer, more stable fiscal system for state governments and promoting long-term growth for all industries.” Read more

Energy & Environment 
Climate Policy and the Power of a Single Vote
The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a personal tragedy for his family and loved ones and a loss for any and all who love liberty. While Scalia’s time serving on the Supreme Court influenced a wide range of issues, H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow for energy and environmental policy at The Heartland Institute, says Scalia’s critical analysis and carefully crafted majority and dissenting decisions on environmental issues had an outsized impact on environmental policy and law. The justice’s death, Burnett writes, “could result in a seismic shift for the worse in environmental law.” Read more

Health Care

Nebraska Lawmakers to Decide Medicaid Expansion a Fourth Time
Michael McGrady writes in this Heartlander article about Nebraska state Sen. John McCollister’s (R-Omaha) new bill that would, if passed, expand Medicaid in Nebraska by allowing many people above the federal poverty line to purchase private health insurance using federal dollars. McGrady reports numerous critics of the proposal argue Medicaid expansion is both unaffordable and unpredictable, and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) says the new plan should be compared to the failing Medicaid program in Arkansas.Read more

From Our Free-Market Friends
The Education Debit Card II: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts
In this Friedman Foundation follow-up study, the Goldwater Institute’s Jonathan Butcher and The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke examine data from Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, an education savings account (ESA) program. The program allows families to spend their education dollars on a variety of education options, including private tutoring, learning therapies, and more. “The Education Debit Card II: What Arizona Parents Purchase with Education Savings Accounts” reveals the most common expenditures families using ESAs pay now, and it examines how spending trends have changed since the publication of the Friedman Foundation’s previous report. Despite claims made by teachers unions and other education associations that ESAs are nothing more than vouchers, the data suggests otherwise. The report finds that as the program has matured, families have continued to use education savings accounts for more than just private school tuition. Read more





The January issue of Budget & Tax News reports the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is proposing to ban smoking in all taxpayer-funded housing apartments in
the country. The rule may extend to e-cigarette use in public housing. William Anderson, a professor of economics at Frostburg State University, says the proposed rule goes too far. “If you ban e-cigarettes, there literally is nothing else that you can’t ban,” Anderson said. “What about reading material?