(The Center Square) – Multiple legislatures across the country attempted to pass or passed some form of school choice legislation this year.
“Policymakers in 40 states debated 111 educational choice bills – 79 percent of which related to ESAs,” Robert Enlow, president and CEO of EdChoice, said when announcing the findings of a newly published EdChoice report, the “ABC’s of School Choice.”
“As the months ticked by, a total of seven states enacted new choice programs and 10 expanded ones already in operation,” he said. As of Nov. 14, eight states joined Arizona and West Virginia, which already have universal school choice programs, to offer “all students choice, making 2023 the Year of Universal Choice.”
Overall, 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico had some form of school choice programs in 2023, with 72 programs impacting 745,954 students nationwide.
In 2023, 10 states had enacted universal school choice or near universal choice programs, the most in U.S. history: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.
“In just three years, the number of states with universal or near-universal private school choice programs has grown from zero to 10 and the number of students eligible for these programs has increased by 60 percent,” Edlow said. “Ten states now have choice programs with universal or near-universal student eligibility, meaning all K-12 students are eligible to participate. Six universal states offer education savings accounts, three offer vouchers, one offers a refundable tax credit, and one offers a tax credit education savings account. Florida has two universal programs.”
Opponents of school choice programs argue they take taxpayer dollars away from traditional public schools.
The EdChoice report, considered the most expansive of its kind, explains the six types of school choice programs offered by each state: ESAs, school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, refundable tax credits, tax-credit ESAs, and individual tax credits and deductions.
Approximately 20 million students – or 36% of all American students – are eligible for a private choice program, EdChoice notes.
ESAs: 13 states, 15 programs
Thirteen states offer ESAs programs, with Florida and Tennessee offering two each. ESAs are publicly funded, restricted government-authorized savings accounts used by parents for educational purposes. Funds may be spent on school tuition, tutoring, online education programs, therapies for students with special needs, textbooks, instructional materials.
School vouchers: 14 states, 25 programs
Fourteen states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico offer 25 voucher programs to 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.” Vouchers fund partial or full tuition for private school tuition. Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Wisconsin have multiple programs.
Tax-credit scholarships: 22 states, 26 programs
Twenty-two states offer 26 tax-credit scholarships, with Arizona offering multiple programs, to allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. Some allow grants for public schools and/or transportation assistance.
Refundable tax credits: 2 states, 2 programs
Florida and Missouri offer tax-credit ESAs to allow taxpayers to receive full or partial tax credits when they donate to nonprofit organizations that fund and manage parent-directed K-12 ESAs.
Tax-credit ESAs: 4 states, 4 programs
Four states offer refundable tax credits to allow parents to receive state income tax relief for approved educational expenses, including private school tuition, books, supplies, computers, tutors and transportation. If the cost of allowable educational expenses exceeds what parents owe in state taxes, they can receive a maximum allowable credit to offset their expenses.
Individual tax credits and deductions: 8 states, 12 programs
Eight states offer 12 programs to allow tax credits and deductions to provide state income tax relief for approved educational expenses. Tax credits lower total taxes owed; deductions reduce total taxable income.
The report also notes that 20 states and the District of Columbia have means-tested choice programs, meaning students must live in a household under a certain income threshold to participate. Five states offer means-tested voucher programs, 15 offer tax credit scholarships, four offer education savings accounts, and one offers a tax credit education savings account. Several states have multiple means tested programs, according to the report.
Fourteen states have choice programs for special-needs pathways for students with an IEP or learning disability status, according to the report. Eight states offer special needs voucher programs, three offer tax credit scholarships, and five offer education savings accounts. Several states have multiple programs for students with special needs.
American students receive K-12 instruction through a variety of ways, according to EdChoice’s analysis. The majority, 64%, are assigned to traditional public schools. Another 14% choose traditional public schools; 7% attend private schools, 6% charter schools, and 5% magnet schools.
Roughly 3% of American children are home-schooled. Only 1% are enrolled in virtual programs; 1% also receive some form of private educational choice program support.