Two New Scholarship Tax Credit States Help Bolster Choice Equation

Earlier this week, I gave you the review of K-12 education issues in the Colorado legislative session like no one else can. Today, I just quickly wanted to look at a few developments in other states.

While our own Centennial State gets closer and closer to taking a big step forward for school choice, a couple of other states in our part of the country have broken through with new scholarship tax credit programs.

Last month I told you that Nevada was on the verge of enacting scholarship tax credits to provide more tuition aid and opportunities for low- and middle-income students. Well, as promised, Gov. Brian Sandoval followed through and signed the program into law.

Which makes the folks at the Friedman Foundation look pretty smart for predicting that Nevada would be the state “most likely to succeed” at entering the school choice club. Michael Chartier broke down the program, which starts out at a fairly modest size but has a built-in mechanism to grow automatically and provide more scholarships in future years.

While Nevada may have been the odds-on favorite, I have to confess that this week’s news from Montana had me shocked — well, a little. Big Sky Country joined the choice club with the creation of a tax credit scholarship program, but they didn’t exactly go big like their name would imply.

The American Federation for Children observes that the new program was kind of a survivor:

This program comes out of a legislative session where six school choice bills were introduced and five were either vetoed or killed in the Legislature. These included a charter school bill, an education savings account program and program serving students with special needs.

And it didn’t exactly win a hearty endorsement from Gov. Steve Bullock, who allowed scholarship tax credits to become law essentially by just ignoring the bill that reached his desk.

The problem? The scale of the program is not only small ($3 million), but even worse, there is a mere $150 tax credit limit for individual donors. Raising enough money to help more than just a handful of kids seems, well, a fairly remote possibility.

But it’s a tiny step forward and a foot in the door in a state that has been very resistant to school choice. It’s one of a small number that doesn’t even have a charter law.

Speaking of public school choice, the Center for Education Reform this week broke the bad news that Maryland recently “became the first state in the country to roll back its charter school law.”

Just because you call something The Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015 apparently doesn’t make it so. In one sense, though, the law is quite an accomplishment, given that Maryland already had one of the nation’s weakest charter laws.

On balance, though, states across the nation made this another remarkably positive year for empowering parents and opening the doors of opportunity for students.

A new charter state (Alabama), two more ESA states, and the continuing growth of scholarship tax credit programs — among other developments — should encourage us. Let’s not rest on our laurels, but look to make 2016 an even bigger year for educational choice: in Colorado and nationwide!