Private School Vouchers: Analysis of 2020 Legislative Sessions

For a larger version and a text description of this map with a list of states in each category, click here.

This is the first in our series, Private School Vouchers: Analysis of 2020 Legislative Sessions. This annual PFPS analysis provides an overview of proposed voucher legislation nationwide and deeper dives on key states and issues.

Introduction

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, state legislatures across the country continued to introduce dozens of bills promoting private school voucher programs and other diversions of public funding to private education during their 2020 legislative sessions. But, as in previous years, the overwhelming majority of states did not pass bills to establish or expand voucher programs, and most that enacted voucher legislation made modest changes to existing programs.

2020 Legislative Session Highlights:

  • Numerous states, including California, Michigan, and Texas, among others, did not see the introduction of any legislation to create or expand voucher programs.
  • A COVID-19 omnibus bill froze a change to state law that would have made students from hundreds more public schools eligible for Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program.
  • Legislation to establish voucher programs for students who report bullying or other safety incidents, in line with the “bullying voucher” bills trending in recent years, failed to pass in Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, and Missouri.
  • Although Mississippi extended its education savings account (ESA) voucher program past the original sunset date, it narrowed eligibility and added significant accountability measures.
  • Florida expanded eligibility for three of the state’s voucher programs.
  • Several states, including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, used the public health emergency as a purported rationale for diverting public funds to private schools and introduced voucher legislation connected with the pandemic.

2020 Legislative Session Lowlights:

  • Florida expanded eligibility for three of the state’s voucher programs.
  • Several states, including North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, used the public health emergency as a purported rationale for diverting public funds to private schools and introduced voucher legislation connected with the pandemic.
Diverting public money to private education starves public schools of vital resources and does not lead to improved academic outcomes. For information about various types of private school voucher programs, visit this web page. The PFPS website also highlights a wide range of research showing that private school voucher programs are harmful uses of public funds. Access the PFPS Bill Tracker here for more information about the legislation described in this series and current voucher bill activity.

Arizona

There is significant voucher activity in the Arizona Legislature every year, but 2020 saw only a small expansion of the state’s ESA voucher program. The Legislature passed a bill allowing students residing on Indian reservations within the state to use vouchers to attend out-of-state private schools.

Colorado

A bill that would create an ESA voucher program for students impacted by school safety incidents and establish a tax credit mechanism to fund “supplemental” vouchers was introduced in the House but failed to pass out of committee.

Florida

Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation to expand eligibility for Florida’s voucher programs. The legislation slightly expanded eligibility for the Gardiner voucher for students with disabilities, increased the number of students eligible to participate in the Family Empowerment voucher program passed in 2019, and expanded the Florida tax credit voucher program to students whose household income does not exceed 260% of the federal

Iowa

Several bills with varying details were introduced in the House and Senate to establish an ESA voucher program. None reached a floor vote.

Mississippi

The Mississippi Legislature renewed the state’s ESA voucher program for students with disabilities, which would otherwise have sunset in 2020. The legislation included several new accountability measures and narrowed eligibility for the voucher program.

Missouri

Bills to create an ESA voucher program, a child safety account or “bullying voucher” program, and a tax credit scholarship voucher program for low-income students were introduced in one or both chambers, but none became law.

Ohio

A significant expansion of Ohio’s EdChoice voucher program was frozen by an omnibus COVID-19 bill in March, though some expansion did occur. In late 2020, the Ohio Legislature passed a bill altering eligibility criteria for voucher programs.

Utah

Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed legislation to establish a new tax credit voucher program for students with disabilities. The state already had one voucher program, also for students with disabilities.


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