Yesterday, several bills to expand or improve the Education Scholarship Account (ESA) program died when they were not passed by the committee deadline. One bill, however, remains alive: Senate Bill 2675. The bill extends the life of the ESA program until 2024. The program is currently set to expire next year.
Other bills would not only have removed the sunset provision (repealer), but improved the program by
• replacing the ESA lottery with a first come, first served process
• establishing an online portal
• creating an appeals process
• establishing a parent-friendly payment and application timeline
• allowing unused ESA funds to roll over each year
All of these changes were recommended by the legislative PEER Committee, which reviewed the program last December and found 91% satisfaction among parents.
With hundreds on the wait list for an ESA, other bills would have made possible an automatic funding process to enable more applicants to receive ESAs yearly. When the program was enacted in 2015, the legislature authorized 500 ESAs in the first year and stipulated that an additional 500 scholarships be added each year. Unfortunately, additional scholarship have never been funded, and there are only 428 ESAs available in total 4 years later.
For now, the most pressing issue — an extension of the repealer — will continue through the legislative process.
Legislators will also have an opportunity to increase the overall funding amount for ESAs during the appropriations process, which will take place later in the legislative session.
While the Legislature has failed to move forward necessary ESA reforms this session, members can still ensure that the popular program serves families who need choices by
• passing Senate Bill 2675
• increasing the ESA appropriation by another $3.25 million