Today's Policy Field Trip to Senate Ed and the Discussion to Come

As you all know, I love policy field trips. And I especially love those field trips when they are about something as fun as school choice. Maybe that’s why I had so much fun at today’s Senate Education hearing. Well, the very end of it, anyway; I showed up a little late. My little legs can only carry me so fast!

So what exactly happened in Senate Ed today? The committee heard Senator Kevin Lundberg‘s bill on tax credits for private school tuition, which is known to political nerds as SB 045. Feel free to read the bill if you’d like (it differs significantly from the tax credit scholarship programs we’ve talked about before), but here’s the quick and dirty version: The bill would allow taxpayers enroll their children in a private school (or who provide a scholarship for other children to do so) to receive a tax credit in return. It also would allow credits for parents who use home-based education for their children.

As one might expect, the bill drew its fair share of fire. Democratic senators Andy Kerr, Michael Merrifield, and Michael Johnston all offered amendments to the bill. These included a requirement that private school students take state tests, require private schools to scrap their admission requirements, and a proposal from Sen. Kerr to make the issue a statewide ballot question. All of these were defeated. Sen. Johnston then offered a tricky amendment that would allow the program to begin only after the “Negative Factor” has been eliminated—a move designed to force Republicans to choose between two untenable positions. This was also defeated.

And, of course, all of this was supplemented by some impressively dogmatic anti-choice Twitter buzz. In the end, though, Republicans on the committee passed the bill on a 5-4 party-line vote.

So what does this mean? In the long term, it’s unlikely that this bill will result in a new law. But in the near term, it means that we are going to hear the first real Senate floor debate on school choice in a very long time. That means we’re going to get to see where folks stand, where the big arguments are (we already know many of these), and how this might intersect with other interests and efforts. That’s pretty exciting.

Regardless of SB 045 itself, I hope our leaders use this as an opportunity to have a serious, thoughtful, and public discussion about school choice and the benefits it can bring.