An increasing number of statehouses are looking into measures that would allow school districts, parents and students to tax-payer funds for alternative educational options other than the traditional public education.
A number of new bills covering a variety of topics, such as supporting private schooling and putting educational funding directly into the hands of parents, comes at the same time as increasing concerns over federal overreach in schools and a widespread implementation of common educational benchmarks and standardized testing.
This year has seen 34 states considering proposals that would aid in the creation or amendment of programs that include private education options. Last year saw 29 states looking into such proposals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Also, the number of states considering education savings accounts has increased from 8 to 16 since 2014.
A bill currently proposed in Nevada would offer tax credits for businesses who support private school scholarships. A measure in Mississippi that would create education savings accounts, which would allow state funds to be placed into special savings accounts for parents to use to pay directly for certain services — a measure recently passed in both chambers. Arizona and Florida have begun similar programs in recent years.
Supporters of the bills believe that they would allow students to benefit from a more competitive educational field and that such a field would better cater to their individual needs, writes Caroline Porter for The Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, critics argue that the policies are hindering growth for traditional schools, who can lose funding when students leave their grounds for alternative educational methods. They say that academic outcomes in these alternative programs are not as strong as they should be.
An increase to these policies was seen during the elections last November, when Republicans became the largest number of state lawmakers for the first time in almost a century. Concern over standardized testing linked to Common Core standards have seen parents pulling their children out of the testing, which has also helped to boost the policies.
Recent efforts in Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act have also opened discussions concerning the role of the federal government in schools, as a number of lawmakers promise to return power to the states and local schools.
"Definitely, the narrative of rising hesitation to new assessments and standards, plus the fear of federal-government intrusion, plays in well with these policies," said Josh Cunningham, a senior policy specialist at the conference of state legislatures.