School Choice Advances in the States

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools that refuse to reopen. That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice.

One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. GOP Gov. Jim Justice signed it on Saturday. The law requires the state to set up ESAs by July 2022.

The funds would first be available to students currently enrolled in public school or about to enter kindergarten, with no cap on the number who can qualify. In 2026 private- and home-schoolers could be eligible if program participation is less than 5% of statewide public-school enrollment. The state education department estimates students will receive about $4,600 each—the average amount of state per-pupil aid—in the program’s first year. Families can use the funds for private-school tuition, tutors and more. “This is a program that is funding kids,” says state Sen. Patricia Rucker.

Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk.

In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. Last school year the program provided nearly 800 students with scholarships of about $1,800.

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