Legislative Update: These 5 States Are Taking Up Private School-Choice Bills

More than 13% of Catholic school students nationwide use school choice program funding to help with tuition.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held a news conference to sign school choice legislation on March 7, 2024, in Montgomery, Alabama.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held a news conference to sign school choice legislation on March 7, 2024, in Montgomery, Alabama. (photo: Hal Yeager / Governor's Office of Alabama)

The school choice debate continues to resonate across the nation following a record year in 2023, when 20 states expanded school choice programs, with 11 states enacting “universal” school choice by allowing all students to use state tuition assistance to attend nonpublic schools.

More than 13% of Catholic school students nationwide use school choice program funding to help with tuition, according to the latest data from the National Catholic Education Association. In Ohio, Florida, Indiana, and Arizona, more than half of students attending Catholic schools receive tuition aid from school choice programs.

Popular programs include publicly funded “education savings accounts” (ESAs) as well as tax credit scholarships, which allow taxpayers to receive tax credits when they donate to private school scholarship programs. 

In addition, private school vouchers draw from public funding set aside for the particular child’s education. Charter schools and open-enrollment public schools also enable parents to pick the school they think is best for their child. 

For All Families: Alabama

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on March 7 signed school choice legislation to create publicly funded ESAs for families.

“Alabama is only the 14th state in the nation to provide families with an education savings account option,” Ivey said in a statement

The Creating Hope and Opportunity for Our Students’ Education (CHOOSE) Act of 2024 sets aside up to $7,000 of funding per family per year for school tuition. Set to begin on Jan. 1, 2025, the program will use up to $100 million annually.  

Parents can put these funds toward school-related expenses including textbooks, educational software, and even tutoring. It can also go toward nonpublic online organizations and education services for students with disabilities. 

These ESAs will be available to “the parent of an eligible student whose family had an adjusted gross income not exceeding 300% of the federal poverty level for the preceding tax year,” the bill read.

Like many school choice programs, Alabama’s ESAs will gradually become available for all families in 2027. 

“Our plan will not only work for Alabama families — it will work for the state and will be effective and sustainable for generations to come,” Ivey said. 

Idaho's Narrow Vote

The turbulent school choice debate in Idaho continues as another school choice bill was shot down earlier this month.

The school choice bill, House Bill 447, would have created a $50 million tax credit and grant program to subsidize private school tuition, but the House Revenue and Taxation Committee narrowly rejected it. 

The bill, which failed by a narrow 9-8 vote on March 12, follows several attempts to develop school choice in Idaho through bills including varied programs of tax credits, ESAs, or school vouchers.

HB 447 would have granted up to $5,000 per family to use for educational expenses, including private school tuition, while families with a child with a learning disability could claim an extra $2,500. The funds would have been on a first-come first-served basis, with a cap of $50 million total in government spending. 

Kentucky's Proposed Amendment

Kentucky on March 15 approved a proposed constitutional amendment on school choice to appear on the ballot in November. This amendment would open up the possibility of school choice in Kentucky schools.

Because of the 1891 “Blaine Amendment” that prevents public education funds from going toward nonpublic schools, Kentucky is currently unable to institute public charter schools. 

But the amendment would remove “legal barriers to Kentucky families having the same kind of educational opportunities available in most other states,” a press release from school choice advocates stated. 

The school choice amendment would change the state constitution to allow Kentucky “to provide financial support for the education of students outside the system of common schools,” the proposed amendment reads.

According to Jim Waters, president of the Bluegrass Institute, the amendment “would not determine Kentucky’s specific school-choice policy; rather, it simply clarifies that nothing in the Constitution prevents lawmakers from creating and funding such policies.” 

Wyoming Debating Legislation

Wyoming passed school choice legislation March 8 that would allow families to use state education savings account programs to fund tuition for a nonpublic school of their choosing.

The bill allows funding to go toward private, charter, and some home-based education. The ESAs can be used for tuition, fees, or even school supplies. 

The program depends on a sliding scale, offering between $600 to $6,000 per student per year depending on the families’ income, ranging from 150% of the federal poverty level to 500%. 

The Wyoming Education Association is currently suing the state, alleging that it is not providing K-12 with enough funding, and will go to trial in June.

The governor has 15 days to sign or veto the bill. 

Georgia Nearly There

A school choice bill in Georgia that would offer ESAs for private school tuition passed narrowly in the House. The bill still has to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, who has expressed support for the program.

The bill would allow parents whose children are in the bottom quarter of public schools in terms of test scores to send their children to private schools or to teach them at home. The bill would grant them $6,500 in funding. 

Children who already attend nonpublic schools would have to spend a year in public school to qualify for the voucher, whereas new kindergarteners would qualify for it immediately. 

The bill also includes measures codifying teacher pay raises and increasing funding for pre-Ks as well as testing requirements for voucher students.

The proposed program would be capped at about $140 million, which would accommodate more than 21,000 students.