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The School Choice Drive Accelerates

The School Choice Drive Accelerates

Utah joins Iowa in expanding education savings accounts statewide, and other states are lining up to join them.

By The Editorial Board, WSJ

Jan. 27, 2023 6:23 pm ET

School choice is gaining momentum across the country, and this week Utah joined Iowa in advancing the education reform cause. Both states passed expansive education savings account (ESA) legislation that will make private schools accessible to many more families, and other states are moving too.

Utah’s bill, which the Senate passed Thursday, 20-8, makes ESAs of $8,000 available to every student. There’s no income cap on families who can apply, though lower-income families receive preference and the program is capped at $42 million. The funds can be used for private school tuition, home-schooling expenses, tutoring, and more. The bill passed the House with a referendum-proof majority last week of 54-20. Gov. Spencer Cox has suggested he supports the bill, which includes pay raises for teachers.

This follows the Monday passage of Iowa’s ESA bill, which we have previewed, with a 55-45 vote in the state House and 31-18 in the Senate. Gov. Kim Reynolds was quick on Tuesday to sign the new law providing more than $7,500 for any student to use toward private-school tuition and other education expenses.

It’s a promising start to a year in which many states are eyeing school choice: About a dozen other state legislatures have introduced bills to create new ESA programs, and several want to expand the ones they have.

In Florida a Republican proposal would extend the state’s already robust scholarship programs to any student in the state. The bill would remove income limits that are currently in place for families who want to apply, though lower-income applicants would receive priority. It allows families to use the funds for expenses other than tuition, including courses of study for home-schooling, tutors and tests. Home-school students would be eligible for funds for the first time.

South Carolina legislators are mulling a new ESA program for lower-income students. In Indiana, a Senate bill would make state ESAs available to more students. An Ohio bill would remove an income cap and other eligibility rules for the state’s school vouchers.

Two Oklahoma Senate bills propose new ESA programs—one for all students, and another for those in larger districts, with exceptions for some smaller districts. “Oklahoma doesn’t want to be left behind,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt on Fox Newsthis week. ESA bills are in some stage of moving in Nebraska, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.

Arizona set a new standard for state education policy last year with ESAs for all students. Florida has been its chief contender for the top spot, but other states are now in the race—and November’s elections put many in a better place to advance ESAs. A competition among states to offer more education choice is the best development in years for American students.

All of these reforms share a common principle, which is that state money for education follows the child and not the school system. The hope is that this empowers parents, rather than unions and education bureaucracies that have dominated school governance and prevented the learning improvement and higher standards that U.S. students desperately need.

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