As state governments came back into session in January, Americans United’s Public Policy Department began tracking bills that would undermine church-state separation, including those that would create or expand private school voucher programs.
AU is paying special attention to three bills:
Iowa: Members of the state Senate are pushing SF159, which would create a new private school voucher program. The bill was introduced in January and was quickly approved by the Senate Education Committee.
AU sent a letter to members of the Iowa Senate urging them to reject the bill.
“This bill would create an education savings account (ESA) program – also known as a private school voucher – that would fund private school education,” observed the letter. “Our public schools, which are already facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic, should not be stripped of public funds. In addition, this bill should be rejected because vouchers don’t work, fund discrimination, and violate religious freedom. Public dollars should fund public schools, which serve 90% of America’s schoolchildren.”
The voucher bill is a priority for Gov. Kim Reynolds (R).
Arizona: Some members of the state Senate want to spend more money on Arizona’s voucher pro- grams, even though voters in the state rejected efforts to expand vouchers in 2018.
The bill, SB 1041, would quadruple the cap on a voucher program for students with disabilities to $20 million in just three years. AU sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee explaining that voucher programs often fail students with disabilities, and reminding senators that Arizona’s voucher programs have a history of fraud, including more than $700,000 in unauthorized purchases in one year.
Missouri: The state Senate Education Committee has approved a bill that Nik Nartowicz, AU’s state policy counsel, called “worthy of Dr. Frankenstein” on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog.
The bill, SB 55, combines a number of unrelated education issues, and it includes language that would create Missouri’s first voucher program. The bill could cost the state up to $100 million just in the first year.
AU is monitoring voucher legislation in several other states as well.