Butafter sailing through the
“Rural Republicans I think really are kind of the pivot point in this whole discussion,” said state Rep.
School choice, also referred to as private school vouchers by critics, has emerged as one of the most divisive education issues this legislative session. The
Then, during a marathon debate of the House's version of the state budget on
All but one House Democrat, who was absent, voted for the amendment, as well as 50
VanDeaver and several rural lawmakers said that now is not the time to redirect education dollars to school choice when
School choice supporters, on the other hand, said that as the state explores overhauling its school finance system, now is as good a time as ever to implement a new system that would give poor families an opportunity to escape failing public schools and improve the overall education system by encouraging competition.
The push to create alternatives to the state's public education system is at least two decades old. Despite this month's setback, school choice advocates are likely to build on the support in the
“I don't think the issue will ever go away,” said
Taylor also exempted home schooling families, many of whom reside in rural areas, from being eligible for state money under the bill. Some home schooling families have feared more state regulation with school choice.
Students leaving public school could use the savings accounts to pay for a variety of education services, including tuition for private schools, online courses and educational therapies. For those students who leave public school, SB 3 would redirect a portion of the per-student state money the school district where the student had attended would have otherwise received.
For a family of four making less than
Students could also qualify for tax credit scholarships to use toward private school tuition; businesses that donate to the scholarship fund would receive a tax credit — capped at
“They can carve up this bill and make it sweeter to pull in extra votes, but it wasn't a good bill to begin with,” said state Rep. J.D.
A major argument against school choice from rural lawmakers is that there isn't a market for private schools in rural areas.
Private schools are located within the boundaries of just six of the 459 school districts that the
The rural-urban Republican split on the House amendment was pronounced: Representatives from eight of the 10 least densely populated GOP House districts voted for the amendment barring state money for school choice. Representatives from seven of the 10 most densely populated Republican districts voted against the amendment, according to the Statesman analysis.
Earlier this year, school choice advocates sent
Although some polls and studies have said that
“Are we talking about a parents' right to choose where their child is educated or are we talking about giving public funds to private and faith based schools?” VanDeaver said. “The reality is that we have options in public schools and that's what my constituents want … but that's not what some people mean by school choice,” he said.
Both legislators said that the reason constituents don't want school choice boils down to the quality of public schools and the loyalty to those schools.
Retirees and people buying second homes are moving into the district, driving up property values without increasing student enrollment, Shanley said. Under the school finance system, property-rich school districts like
“My taxpayers send money out of the district. I can't catch up,” Shanley said. “It's a horrible bill. It's going to affect the pot of money that public schools could potentially have.”
Shanley also fears that school choice would lead to the opening of subpar private schools, leaving school districts to remediate students when they return.
“The rural school is the heart of the community and everything revolves around that school — the pride, the school teams,” he said.
The future of school choice
Among the lawmakers who voted against the anti-school choice amendment were
Isaac, whose legislative district includes the
“If we can help students, why should we get in their way?”
Wilson says the Legislature should allow public schools to be more innovative before implementing a universal school choice program. But he doesn't think the issue should be left off the table.
“We can validate whether it does or does not hurt public education. I think we have to back into this a little bit slower,” he said.
“School choice advocates will hold House members accountable by ensuring that voters in their district know about this vote and their efforts to undermine parental freedom,”
Advocates for school choice are optimistic about its chances to become law in
“Everyone should be able to go to the school that they want to go, public or private, religious or not religious,” said Parker, of the conservative
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