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From: State Policy Network   

More than two years ago, the pandemic disrupted every industry in the country—but none quite like education. Millions of students were sent home for virtual learning, and parents became more involved in the education of their children.

After months of school closures, virtual classes, and learning loss, parents were eager for alternative education options for their children. Parents demanded change—and states across the country delivered. In 2021, often dubbed “the year of school choice,” dozens of states passed policies that improve education options for American families.

States are continuing that momentum in 2022. During this year’s legislative sessions, several states adopted policies that empower parents to make the best education choices for their children. From increasing academic transparency, to expanding charter schools, to protecting learning pods, states across the country are adopting policies that put parents and students first.

Network of state think tanks played an important role in shaping and promoting these policies so all American children—regardless of where they live or how much money their family makes—can receive a good education that sets them up for success.

Promoting academic transparency

As parents became more involved in their child’s education, some grew dissatisfied with their school’s curriculum. In some cases, the curriculum wasn’t easily accessible for parents—leaving them in the dark about what their kids were learning. To give parents insight and access to teaching materials, several states adopted transparency laws—which let parents know what’s being taught in public schools.

ARIZONA: The Arizona Senate passed academic transparency reform. Backed by theGoldwater Institute, the bill establishes parents’ right to know what is being taught in public schools by requiring those schools to post on a publicly accessible portion of their website a listing of the specific learning materials used at each institution.

KANSAS: Kansas Policy Institute helped pass House Bill 2567. School boards are now required to annually review state academic assessments and conduct a building needs assessment in all schools, publicizing both to ensure transparency and accountability, before approving the district’s annual budget.

MICHIGAN: The Michigan Senate adopted a bill that asserts “the fundamental rights of parents to direct their children’s education.” The Mackinac Center noted parents have the fundamental right and responsibility to direct their children’s education, and students benefit greatly when schools treat parents as trusted partners.

MISSISSIPPI: The Mississippi Governor signed a bill that was authored by theMississippi Center for Public Policy to address Critical Race Theory in the classroom.

MISSOURI: The Missouri Legislature advanced a critical piece of legislation that would help to guarantee parents’ role in their child’s education. The Show-Me Institute explained that among other things, the resolution would require curriculum transparency and impose meaningful grading of schools and districts so parents can see how their schools and districts stack up to their peers.

COLORADO: The Independence Institute filed a citizens initiative to expand the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) to permit parental access to teaching materials used in their kids’ classrooms.

Expanding access to charter schools

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are independently run. These schools contract or “charter” with a charter school authorizer—which can be a nonprofit organization, company, government agency, or university. By providing another tuition-free education option, charter schools benefit all families, but low-income families and families whose children do not thrive in a traditional school setting in particular. These parents, who normally don’t have a choice in where their child goes to school, are now provided with an alternative.

KENTUCKY: The Kentucky General Assembly overrode the Kentucky Governor’s veto of House Bill 9, which provides funding for public charter schools and will result in the opening of at least two of these schools in the commonwealth—one in Jefferson County and the other in Northern Kentucky. The Bluegrass Institute noted Kentucky’s parents will now have access to these innovative public schools just like families in 44 other states.

MISSOURI: The Missouri General Assembly passed a bill equalizing funding for charter school students with their district school peers. The American Federation for Children noted the legislation will ensure that all public school students are on an equal playing field with regard to state spending on education.

Giving families access to Education Savings Accounts and scholarship programs

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are state-supervised funds that parents can use to pay for a wide variety of education options. The state government deposits a portion of what the state would have spent to send the child to public school into a private account that parents can use for education-related expenses. ESAs empower parents by giving them the freedom to choose the education option that best meets their children’s needs. Tax credit scholarship programs allow individuals and corporations to donate money to a scholarship program and receive a tax credit. The scholarship money is awarded to families, mostly low-income, so they can pay for education-related costs.

ARIZONA: In a significant win for Arizona students and their families, the Arizona Governor signed a bill that expands the state’s Empowerment Scholarship program to all students in the state. The Goldwater Institute played a key role in advancing the bill. Under the new law, the state’s 1.1 million K-12 students are all eligible—making it the most expansive school choice program in the country.

GEORGIA: The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill which increases the cap on Georgia’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. HB517 also doubles the amount individuals, LLCs, and S Corporations may contribute and removes the automatic sunset of the program. The Georgia Center for Opportunity noted the real beneficiaries of this legislation are the thousands of Georgia kids who will benefit from expanded access to a great education.

LOUISIANA: The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill that creates ESAs for kids with disabilities. The Pelican Institute noted parents of children with disabilities know their child’s needs best, and an ESA will allow them to create a customized educational program in consultation with their doctor.

OHIO: The Buckeye Institute-inspired Ohio Afterschool Child Enrichment (Ohio ACE) program launched in April 2022—allowing eligible families to apply for a $500 account for each of their K-12 children. This is Ohio’s first ESA program and will help families pay for a variety of necessary educational services.

OKLAHOMA: A bill that would provide the most significant expansion of school choice opportunity in Oklahoma history has won approval from a Senate committee and will next go before the entire Oklahoma Senate. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs explained the bill would create the Oklahoma Empowerment Account (OEA) Program, which students could use to pay for a range of education services, including private-school tuition.

PENNSYLVANIA: The Pennsylvania House passed a bill to offer Lifeline Scholarships to students in underperforming school districts. The Commonwealth Foundation explained that if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, the program will offer an Education Opportunity Account (EOA) to any student assigned to a district school in the bottom 15 percent of performance metrics based on state testing.

SOUTH DAKOTA: The South Dakota Legislature passed a school choice expansion bill. The American Federation for Children noted the legislation expands the eligibility and funding for the Partners in Education Tax Credit Program.

TENNESSEE: In a victory for school choice, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that a scholarship program for children from low-income families is constitutional and may go into effect. The ESA pilot program provides approximately $7,000 in funds for students to attend the independent school of their choice. Attorneys from the Liberty Justice Center represented a coalition of parents and schools and successfully argued to reverse a lower-court order blocking the program alongside attorneys from the Beacon Center and Institute for Justice. Beacon Center CEO, Justin Owen stated, “We are fully confident after this decision that families in Nashville and Memphis will finally get the choice opportunities that they deserve.”

UTAH: The Utah Governor signed a law that expands the state’s existing special needs ESA to include siblings of children with special needs who receive scholarships. State Policy Network formed a coalition of organizations to work on this bill and paid for polling and message research on school choice in Utah.

Protecting learning pods—a new, innovative option for families

learning pod is a small group of children who come together to learn and socialize. Learning pods are organized by parents, who take turns teaching or may even split the costs and hire an instructor. No two pods are alike because they’re based on families’ specific needs. Students might learn inside a parent’s home, a backyard, or community center. Some pods use the students’ public school curriculum while others use their own course of study.

WEST VIRGINIA: The West Virginia Governor signed a law that permits learning pods to continue operating in the state. In 2020, State Policy Network conducted research on learning pod regulation and the threat it poses towards a parent’s ability to start and run learning pods. Later that year, SPN developed model legislation to define and protect this innovated education method from regulation—and in 2022 West Virginia adopted that legislation.

Funding students, not systems

Education funding formulas, or the process for distributing money to a school or school district, is often very complex. This complexity it makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for Americans to understand why a school generated the funding that it did or what the school used those funds for. It’s also very difficult for residents, and notably parents, to keep the school accountable for its academic results.

TENNESSEE: Thanks to the Beacon Center, Tennessee reformed its education funding formula to prioritize teachers and students, not systems. The Tennessee Legislature passed the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act (TISA), a plan spearheaded by the Tennessee Governor which will allow more money to flow into classrooms. Under TISA, every child in the state will receive a certain amount of money for education. Tennessee’s Department of Education will provide school districts with the money in a lump sum, and those schools will have flexibility in how that money is spent.

State Policy Network works alongside state think tanks like Beacon to help them advance reforms like these that improve education outcomes for families. During this campaign, SPN helped connect Beacon with national partners who study education funding and how that process works in other states. SPN also provided messaging support on how to effectively communicate this issue to lawmakers and the public.

VIRGINIA: During Virginia’s 2022 legislative session, the Thomas Jefferson Institute successfully defeated efforts to halve the school choice funding in the state.

Adopting reforms to help students read

ALASKA: The Alaska Policy Forum, in partnership with SPN, spearheaded multiyear efforts to pass “Read by 9” in the state. This policy helps address Alaska’s 3rd grade literacy crisis. Each year, as the grade level demands go up, students who are not proficient readers tend to fall further behind and become outsiders inside the classroom. By fourth grade, if students are not proficient readers, half of the curriculum at higher grade levels will be incomprehensible to them.

Allowing students to transfer to a different public school

KANSAS: Kansas passed the Kansas Policy Institute’s public school open enrollment law. Now, if a public school has space, any child in the state may attend there. Kansas Policy explained the law requires districts to accept out-of-district students if there are ‘open seats’ available in district schools.