2024 Education Showdown: School Choice Expansion Sparks Legal Battles And Controversy Across Multiple States

Written By BlabberBuzz | Friday, 24 November 2023 10:15
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The upcoming year is set to witness a heated debate on the subject of school choice, as numerous states prepare to introduce legislation aimed at broadening educational alternatives.

Meanwhile, others are bracing for legal battles over allegations that voucher programs are unconstitutional and pose a "grave threat" to public schools.

In 2023, advocates of school choice successfully passed legislation in states including Nebraska, Florida, and Ohio. A significant victory was also achieved in Oklahoma, where the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved an application for the country's first religious charter school, a Catholic online institution, in June.

Several states are planning to emulate this success in 2024 by expanding educational options for parents. However, these initiatives have also attracted lawsuits from proponents of public education, who contend that voucher programs are unconstitutional.

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In Tennessee, Republican State Representative Mark White, a former teacher, plans to introduce legislation in January to extend the state's existing voucher program from three counties to all 95, as reported by The Tennesseean. White, who co-sponsored the original program's legislation in 2019, believes that "it's time" to extend school choice to the entire state.

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"It just baffles me that we are pro-choice on so many things, but we still struggle with freedom of choice when it comes to schools," White told The Tennesseean.

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The original program faced considerable opposition from both Republicans and Democrats, leading to a Supreme Court case in 2022 to resolve a lawsuit, according to The Tennesseean. Over 3,400 students have applied to the program this year, but Democratic State Senator Jeff Yarbro argues that there is insufficient data to prove the program's success and justify its expansion.

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White, however, contends in an op-ed for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis that a "good education is not a luxury or a one-size-fits-all solution." He asserts that parents need more choices than ever, especially after the significant learning loss many children experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The issue is also causing a stir in Texas, where Republicans recently failed to pass school choice legislation despite Governor Greg Abbott calling four special sessions, according to the Austin American-Statesman. The House voted 84-63 to remove a proposal for an education savings account program from a $7.6 billion education funding bill, with 21 Republicans siding with the Democrats.

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Despite this setback, Abbott pledged to continue "advancing school choice in the Texas Legislature and at the ballot box," in a statement to the Austin American-Statesman. He also declared his commitment to "maintain the fight for parent empowerment until all parents can choose the best education path for their child."

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In July, Ohio passed a budget for 2024 and 2025 that expanded the state's current voucher program to families earning up to 450% of the poverty line or $135,000 for a family of four, according to the Dayton Daily News. The state is projected to spend approximately $2 billion on the voucher program, and families who are accepted will receive 12% more funding than in previous years. High school students can receive up to $8,407, while students in kindergarten through eighth grade can receive up to $6,165.

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Despite these developments, a lawsuit filed in January 2022 by the Ohio Coalition of Equity & Adequacy of School Funding (OCEASF) is scheduled for trial next year. The lawsuit, which has been joined by nearly a third of public school districts, argues that the voucher program "poses an existential threat" and is draining crucial funding from public schools, according to court documents.

Republicans, however, counter that the program allows parents to choose the best option for their children and reject claims that it diverts funding from public schools. They point out that the program has created a separate funding mechanism for those who opt for private education, according to NBC4 Columbus, a local news station.

"That money doesn't get taken from the public schools now, so that's the great thing about it," State Representative Jay Edwards said.

Lawsuits have also been filed in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and South Carolina following the adoption of school choice policies by state officials. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether the state's 32-year-old program that provides parents with vouchers for their children to attend private schools is unconstitutional because it funds private entities, according to The Associated Press.

In South Carolina, a group of parents, teachers, and advocates filed a lawsuit in October, arguing that the state's new school voucher program, passed in April, violates the "no aid" clause in the constitution, which prohibits the state from funding religious and private schools, according to The State.

"Our constitution reflects a binding commitment that the resources of our state be used to fully fund our public schools, which serve all students," said Sherry East, president of the South Carolina Education Association. "Instead of private school vouchers, we should invest in our public schools by reducing class size, addressing the teacher shortage crisis, and increasing parental involvement."

In July, advocates of public schools in Oklahoma made a similar argument in their lawsuit, claiming that the state could not approve a charter for the St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School because the school will discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity that is not in line with Catholic doctrine. They also argue that the charter violates the state's constitution because it will fund religious indoctrination.

Republican Governor Kevin Stitt previously told the Daily Caller News Foundation that he hopes to "unlock more private" options for education in the future.

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