State lawmakers zero in on education policies in 2024

From school vouchers to funding, we've identified some of the most pressing education policies being discussed among legislators in 2024.

With the new year comes a new legislation session, which, in many states, is an opportunity for lawmakers to outline new priorities for K12 education in 2024. From school vouchers to funding, we’ve identified some of the most pressing education policies being discussed among legislators in 2024.

School vouchers

Media headlines portray ongoing discussions surrounding school vouchers in states like Tennessee and Arizona. Facing a near $1 billion deficit, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs promises to bring accountability to the state’s school voucher program that is anticipated to top $900 million in 2024, ABC News reports.

The deficit is largely a result of the increased costs of the state’s expansion of the voucher program in 2022 and a 2021 tax cut impacting incoming tax revenues.

In a memo released in July 2023, the voucher program was criticized after projections revealed it may cost taxpayers nearly $1 billion annually. Hobbs issued a statement in response promising transparency and an improved voucher system.

“The universal voucher program is unsustainable,” she wrote. “Unaccountable school vouchers do not save taxpayer money, and they do not provide a better education for Arizona students. We must bring transparency and accountability to this program to ensure school vouchers don’t bankrupt our state. I’m committed to reforming universal vouchers to protect taxpayer money and give all Arizona students the education they deserve.”

Hobbs is now proposing changes that require private schools that receive voucher funding to set minimum education requirements for educators and that students attend public school for at least 100 days before they can become eligible for the vouchers, ABC News reports.

Similarly, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee aims to expand his school voucher program statewide, The Tennesseean reports. The proposed Education Freedom Scholarship Act would provide 20,000 with some $7,000 to enroll in a private school or for the use of other educational expenses. The first 10,000 students would gain eligibility determined by an income requirement. In 2025, the program will be expanded to universal eligibility.

School funding and safety

About one year ago, a court ruling decided Pennsylvania’s education funding system was “unconstitutionally inequitable,” Spotlight Pennsylvania reports. Since then, lawmakers have been tasked with its revamping, which has been under discussion amongst a bipartisan commission and state House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D. Montgomery).

Matthew Kelley, a school funding scholar at Penn State, originally served as a primary witness during the funding lawsuit. He unveiled to lawmakers that the system’s funding shortfall had reached $6.2 billion, which makes up about 20% of Pennsylvania’s total education spending, according to Spotlight Pennsylvania

“These funding gaps do not impact all student populations equally,” Kelly wrote in his testimony with added emphasis on its impact on Black and Latino students.

The commission aims to release a report based on its hearings sometime in January, which will then hope to bring legislators some answers for closing the funding gaps.

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In terms of school safety, a fatal shooting at a Perry, Iowa, high school early this year has prompted Iowa state legislators to view school safety as a top priority this legislative session, The Daily Iowan reports.

“People choose Iowa because our state is viewed as safe,” said House Speaker Iowa Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford in his opening remarks. “So when we see these senseless acts of violence in our own home state, in our own schools, it shakes us to our core. In Iowa, every parent should be able to send their kids to school and trust that they will return home safe.”

As a result, Republican lawmakers promise to bolster school security while Democrats are prioritizing changes to mental health and gun safety in Iowa.

Reading proficiency

Indiana lawmakers expect to address several issues in its education system, including its literacy “crisis,” the Indiana Capital Chronicle reports. Recent data from the Indiana Department of Education revealed that more than 80% of third graders at public and private schools passed the 2023 Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination. However, the department wants to raise that number to 95% by 2027.

“We have to shoot high,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner told the Indiana Capital Chronicle. “We have a goal set—we know it’s aggressive, and we are following that with some very aggressive tactics to support our current and future teachers to try to engage our parents and families in getting kids to school.”

The state passed several bills in 2023 to mitigate the pandemic’s effects relating to learning loss and academic proficiency. One of those efforts included requiring schools to use “science of reading” curricula by the 2024 school year.

Now, state lawmakers are working to enhance a policy that requires students who are deficient in reading to repeat the third grade, according to the Indiana Capital Chronicle.

“There was a little bit of controversy there on both sides of the fence,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz who also chairs the Senate Education Committee. “But it’s [the General Assembly’s] responsibility to do the very best job we can to make sure that students can read as they go off into their careers.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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