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How Big Was the Year of Educational Choice? – Education Next

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With 18 states enacting seven new educational choice programs and expanding 21 existing ones, 2021 has rightly been declared a “breakthrough year” for school choice. In the wake of all this progress, the one question we at EdChoice are most frequently asked is: how many students are newly eligible to receive a voucher, tax-credit scholarship, or K–12 education savings account?

Estimating Student Eligibility in Educational Choice Programs

Estimating the number and percentage of students eligible for a given educational choice program may seem straightforward, but it’s not so simple. For example, when a state makes multiple categories of students eligible (e.g., low-income, foster care, or special needs), even if it were easy to calculate the number of students in each category, it’s impossible to precisely determine the number of students who are in multiple categories. Without accounting for the overlap, adding up the number of students eligible for each category would produce an overcount.

Moreover, just because a child is eligible for a scholarship does not mean she is guaranteed access to a scholarship. That’s why it’s important to look at the maximum participation, or the number of scholarships that are actually funded. For example, the state of East Freedonia might have a universal school voucher program for which every one of its 2 million K–12 students is eligible, but if the program is capped at 50,000 vouchers, then its level of maximum participation is only 2.5 percent.

Another complicating factor is that that the limitations on participation are not always set in terms of number of scholarships. This is particularly the case with tax-credit scholarship programs, which often have a total credit cap (which may or may not be reached) and give scholarship-granting organizations discretion in terms of scholarship size. Under a given total credit cap, a larger average scholarship size will translate into fewer scholarships granted overall.

Given all of the above complications, we must make reasonable assumptions to produce realistic estimates. When calculating income eligibility, we will assume that the distribution of students is even across the distribution of families. (In reality, lower-income families are more likely to have more children than higher-income families, so this assumption will produce a conservative estimate.) For new tax-credit scholarship programs, we will assume that the total credit cap is reached and that the average scholarship size is equal to the maximum amount allowed. For new programs, we will also assume that scholarship-granting organizations will use the maximum allowed administrative expenses, but we will not factor this in for expanded programs. Finally, we will assume that the most recent quantity of scholarships actually issued was the previous maximum level of participation in order to calculate the new level of maximum participation.

Estimating Eligibility Expanded in 2021

The estimates below are just that: estimates. The most recently available data is often a year or more behind and shifts in household income, scholarship values, donations to scholarship organizations, and numerous other factors make precision unattainable. Nevertheless, we believe these are realistic estimates based on reasonable assumptions and the most recent data available. All estimates in the tables below are rounded to the nearest hundred (for eligibility) or ten (for maximum participation).

During the 2020–21 school year, as reported in EdChoice’s 2021 ABCs of School Choice, approximately 608,000 students used a voucher, tax-credit scholarship, or education savings account to access the K–12 learning environment of their family’s choice. As a result of the legislation enacted so far in 2021, at least 3.6 million additional students are eligible to participate in the new educational choice programs in seven states and about 878,300 additional students are eligible to participate in the expanded choice programs in 14 states. The maximum participation of the new and expanded programs grew by a combined 1.6 million. In other words, if there is a full take up of the expanded maximum participation, the number of students participating in a private K–12 educational choice program could nearly quadruple. Nevertheless, even after such an expansion, the total would equal less than four percent of America’s nearly 60 million K–12 students, indicating just how much more work is left to do.

New Educational Choice Programs in 2021 (7 States, 7 Programs)

Sources: Total K12 enrollment combined the most recent public school and private school enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics and homeschool enrollment data from A2Z Homeschooling. Educational choice program participation figures were from EdChoice’s ABC’s of School Choice: 2021 Edition.

Arkansas (SB 680)

Students are eligible for Arkansas’s new tax-credit scholarship if they are from families with a household income up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line and are switching out of public school or entering kindergarten or first grade. About 38 percent of families statewide are income eligible.

If donors’ contributions reach the $2 million cap and scholarship-granting organizations use the maximum 10 percent administrative allowance, then $1.8 million will be available in scholarship funding. By law, the average scholarship amounts per scholarship-granting organizations cannot exceed 80 percent of Arkansas’s foundation funding amount (about $5,614 in 2020–21) for students in grades K–8, and 90 percent of this amount (about $6,316 in 2020–21) for high school students. Assuming maximum scholarship sizes and equal distribution across grades, the average scholarship size would be $5,830, so there would be sufficient funding for about 310 scholarships, or less than 0.1 percent of Arkansas’s 546,000 K–12 students.

Indiana (HEA 1001)

Students are eligible for Indiana’s new education savings account if they have an Individualized Education Plan for special needs and are from a family with a household income up to 300 percent of the eligibility level for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, or 555 percent of the federal poverty line. About 13 percent of students statewide are eligible. The legislature appropriated $10 million for the 2022–23 academic year, of which up to 3 percent may be spent by the treasurer’s office on administrative costs.

The education savings accounts are worth 90 percent of what the state would have spent on a particular child at a public school, including additional funding for special needs status. It is not yet clear what the average education savings account size will be, so it is difficult to determine the maximum level of participation. If the average scholarship size is about $7,500, then about 1,300 students will be able to receive education savings accounts, which is about 0.1 percent of the state’s 1.2 million K–12 students.

Kentucky (HB 563)

Students are eligible for Kentucky’s new tax-credit education savings account if they are from families living in the state’s eight largest counties with a household income up to 175 percent of the eligibility level for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, or 323.75 percent of the federal poverty line. About 49 percent of families in applicable counties statewide are income eligible.

Donors to account-granting organizations in Kentucky receive 95 percent tax credits for single-year contributions and 97 percent credits for multi-year contributions. If donors’ contributions reach the $25 million cap, all contributions are multi-year, and scholarship-granting organizations use the maximum 10 percent administrative allowance, then about $23.2 million will be available in education opportunity account funding. The law’s requirements for funding the education opportunity accounts are complicated, reducing funding as family income grows, but if we assume that all students take the maximum education opportunity account amount of about $4,700, then there would be sufficient funding for about 4,940 education opportunity accounts, or about 0.6 percent of Kentucky’s 781,000 K–12 student population.

Missouri (HB 349)

Students are eligible for Missouri’s new tax-credit education savings account if they are from families with a household income up to 370 percent of the federal poverty line and are switching out of public school or entering kindergarten or first grade. About 51 percent of families statewide are income eligible.

Donors receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits for contributions to educational assistance organizations up to 50 percent of their total tax liability. If donors’ contributions reach the $25 million cap in the first year and educational assistance organizations use the maximum 10 percent administrative allowance, then about $23.2 million will be available in education savings account funding. If we assume that all students take the maximum education savings account amount of about $6,375, then there would be sufficient funding for about 3,640 education savings accounts, or less than 0.4 percent of Missouri’s 1.1 million K–12 students.

New Hampshire (HB 2)

Students are eligible for New Hampshire’s new education savings account if they are from families with a household income up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line ($79,500 for a family of four in 2020–21). About 31 percent of families statewide are income eligible. New Hampshire’s education savings account is formula funded, meaning that funding is allocated for each eligible student who applies, so the maximum participation will be about 65,000 students.

Ohio (HB 110)

All K–12 students in the state are eligible for Ohio’s new tax-credit scholarship, with priority given to children from low-income families. However, the maximum participation is limited by the availability of scholarship funds. Taxpayers can receive up to $750 in dollar-for-dollar tax credits in return for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations. However, it is impossible at this time to determine how much money will be raised, what the average scholarship size will be, or how many students will be able to receive scholarships.

As a point of comparison, Arizona’s original individual-donor tax-credit scholarship is probably the most similar program to Ohio’s new scholarship program. Originally, the program allowed individual taxpayers to receive tax credits up to $500 in return for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations. By the second year of the program, more than 3,200 students were participating. Even adjusting for inflation, Ohio’s program allows for a somewhat higher maximum tax credit than Arizona’s program originally did, and the population of Ohio is about twice what Arizona’s was in 1999, so it is reasonable to estimate that about 5,000 to 7,500 Ohio students will receive scholarships next year, or about 0.3 percent to 0.4 percent of Ohio’s 1.9 million K–12 students.

West Virginia (HB 2013)

All K–12 students in the state are eligible for West Virginia’s new education savings account if they are switching out of public school or entering kindergarten. About 93 percent of West Virginia’s 295,000 K–12 students would be eligible. Moreover, the education savings account is formula funded, meaning that funding is allocated for each eligible student who applies.

Expanded Educational Choice Programs in 2021 (14 States, 21 Programs)

Sources: Total K12 enrollment combined the most recent public school and private school enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics and homeschool enrollment data from A2Z Homeschooling. Cleveland’s enrollment figures came from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, the Ohio Department of Education, Public School Review, and Private School Review. Educational choice program participation figures were from EdChoice’s ABC’s of School Choice: 2021 Edition.

Arizona (SB 1828)

Arizona lawmakers expanded the tax credits available via Lexie’s Law for Disabled and Displaced Students by $1 million. The average scholarship is worth $5,304, so about 190 additional students could receive scholarships for a total of about 1,130 scholarship students. That’s the equivalent of about 0.1 percent of the 1.2 million K–12 students statewide.

Arkansas (HB 1446)

Arkansas lawmakers expanded the Succeed Scholarship Program to include the children of active-duty or reserve members of the U.S. military. It is unknown how many new students will qualify for the scholarship program at this time. This year, state officials appropriated $4.5 million, up $1.2 million over last year, so the maximum participation is about 710 students, or 0.1 percent of Arkansas’s 548,000 K–12 students.

Florida (HB 7045)

Florida lawmakers expanded the state’s voucher, tax-credit scholarship, and education savings account policies, and merges several scholarship programs into one, the Family Empowerment Scholarship. The bill raised the income thresholds on the state’s school voucher for low- and middle-income students to 375 percent of the federal poverty line, with priority given to lower-income families. The voucher option is now called the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options.

Previously, about 46 percent of the state’s K–12 students had been eligible for a tax-credit scholarship and 52 percent had been eligible for a voucher. Now 62 percent of Florida’s students are eligible for a tax-credit scholarship or voucher, or about 2.2 million out of 3.5 million K–12 students statewide. Although the amount of tax credits available was unchanged by the bill, but that program automatically increases the total amount of tax credits by 25 percent whenever credits claimed reach 90 percent of the cap. Last year, roughly 104,000 students participated and, if all the tax credits are claimed, about 130,000 students could receive tax-credit scholarships in the coming year, which is about 4 percent of the state’s total K–12 enrollment. (In the table above, only the students newly eligible for the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options vouchers are counted toward the nationwide total of newly eligible students to avoid double counting.)

The Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options voucher program had been capped at 46,889 students for the 2020–21 school year. It is allowed to grow by 1 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment each year, which is currently 28,674 students per year, so the maximum number of vouchers will be 75,573 students in 2021-22. The cap excludes students whose prior school year was in a public school and are below the 185 percent of the federal poverty line, students in foster care or out-of-home care, or were adopted, and up to 15,000 students transferred from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship due to lack of funds. The new law change also eliminates the prior-year public school requirement for students on the Family Empowerment Scholarship. Additionally, students who are in foster care or out-of-home care, are dependents of active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces, or are siblings of students receiving a Family Empowerment Scholarship are not required to meet the income eligibility requirements.

Florida lawmakers also provided for the eventual merger of the state’s two educational choice policies for students with special needs—the McKay voucher and the Gardiner Education Savings Account—into a new education savings account program under the state’s Family Empowerment Scholarship, to be called the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities. It is expected that the two programs will serve about 49,000 students in 2021-22.

In total, more than 250,000 students, or about 6 percent of Florida’s K–12 students, will be able to receive either a voucher, education savings account or tax-credit scholarship next year.

Georgia (SB 47)

Georgia lawmakers expanded eligibility for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program to include students with several conditions not previously covered, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cerebral palsy, and cancer. Previously, about 10.5 percent of students were eligible for the scholarships. It is not yet clear how many additional students will be eligible under the new eligibility guidelines. The program provides funding for every eligible student who applies for a scholarship, so the maximum participation is at least 200,000 students, or 10 percent of Georgia’s two million K–12 students.

Indiana (HEA 1001)

Indiana lawmakers expanded the state’s voucher and tax-credit scholarship policies by raising the maximum household income to 300 percent of the eligibility level for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, or 555 percent of the federal poverty line. Previously, about 42 percent of the state’s K–12 students had been eligible for a voucher and 60 percent had been eligible for a tax-credit scholarship. Now 79 percent of Indiana students are eligible for a voucher or tax-credit scholarship, or about 966,000 out of 1.2 million K–12 students statewide. (In the table above, only the students newly eligible for Choice Scholarship vouchers are counted toward the nationwide total of newly eligible students to avoid double counting.)

Indiana lawmakers also increased the maximum participation of both programs. The tax-credit scholarship program’s total tax credit cap was increased by $1 million to $17.5 million. The credits are worth 50 percent of the donors’ contributions, and the average scholarship size is $2,279, so about 875 additional students will be able to receive a scholarship. That brings the total number of available scholarships to about 10,990, which is about 0.9 percent of all K–12 students statewide. However, the voucher program provides funding for every eligible student who applies, so the maximum participation is 966,000 K–12 students. Nevertheless, actual voucher enrollment is likely to be far less than that.

Iowa (HF 847)

Iowa lawmakers increased the tax credits available via the state’s tax-credit scholarship policy to $20 million from $15 million and raised the credit value to 75 percent from 65 percent. That mean that at maximum fundraising capacity, the total amount of tax-creditable contributions increased from $23.1 million to $26.7 million. The average scholarship value is about $1,400, so the scholarship organizations could provide an additional 2,560 scholarships, assuming they raise the additional $5 million and hold the average scholarship value constant. Students are eligible if they are from families earning up to 400 percent of federal poverty guidelines. About 61 percent of Iowa families are eligible, or about 353,000 out of 579,000 K–12 students statewide. There is funding available for about 19,000 scholarships, or about 3.3 percent of the total K–12 students statewide.

Kansas (HB 2134)

Kansas lawmakers expanded eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship policy to include students in grades K–8 from families earning up to the eligibility level for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, or 185 percent of the federal poverty line ($49,025 for a family of four in 2020–21). Previously, students had to be assigned to one of the 100 lowest-performing schools in the state. Now, about 23 percent of Kansas families are income eligible for the scholarships. There was no change to the $10 million cap on the total number of tax credits therefore there is no change in the program’s maximum level of participation. The scholarship organizations did not raise enough funds to hit the tax credit cap, but if they were to do so next year, after factoring in administrative expenses, there would be $12.86 million in scholarship funds. If the average scholarship size remained constant at $3,157, then there could be about 4,070 scholarship students, or 0.7 percent of the 575,000 K–12 students statewide.

Maryland (HB 588)

This year, Maryland lawmakers fully funded the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) vouchers at $10 million for the first time in the program’s history. During the 2020–21 academic year, the amount budgeted for the vouchers was only $7.37 million and there were 3,071 participating students. Since the average voucher size is $2,008, the additional $2.63 million in funding could provide vouchers for about 1,310 additional students for a total of 4,381 voucher students. That’s the equivalent of 0.4 percent of the 1.1 million K–12 students statewide.

Montana (HB 279)

Although Montana lawmakers did not modify the eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship, nor raise the total tax credits available, they did make it significantly easier for scholarship organizations to raise money by increasing the per-donor tax credit cap to $200,000 from $150. Under the previous regulations, 15 students were receiving scholarships. In 2022, there will be $1 million in tax credits available, which will increase to $2 million the following year and then increase by 20 percent each year after that. Although the average scholarship was $500, it is expected that scholarship sizes will increase as scholarship organizations are able to raise more money. The maximum scholarship value is about $5,500, so after accounting for administrative costs, there could be funding for about 150 additional students in 2021–22 for a total of 165 scholarship students, or 0.1 percent of Montana’s 169,000 K–12 students.

Nevada (AB 495)

Nevada lawmakers expanded the state’s Educational Choice Scholarship program by increasing the amount of tax credits available by nearly $5 million. The bill also made important technical fixes that will allow scholarship-granting organizations to serve new children. The additional funds could provide scholarships for about 750 additional students for about 1,800 in total, which is roughly 0.3 percent of the 552,000 K–12 students statewide.

Ohio (HB 110)

Ohio lawmakers expanded eligibility for the statewide Educational Choice Scholarship program to include students in foster care and kinship care as well as the siblings of students who had received a scholarship in the previous academic year. The bill also phases out the “prior year public” requirement starting with students in grades K–2. It is not clear how many new students will be eligible as a result of these changes.

Previously, the total number of scholarships available via the Educational Choice Scholarship and the Income-Based Scholarship programs were capped at 60,000. (The table above evenly divides the cap between the two programs, but in reality, it was possible for more than 30,000 students to enroll in one or the other so long as the combination did not exceed 60,000.) The recent legislation removed that cap, so the maximum capacity for each program is the total number of eligible students. However, although it is possible to estimate the eligibility level for each of Ohio’s five voucher programs individually, it is not possible to determine how many students are eligible for multiple vouchers (hence students eligible for the EdChoice Scholarships are excluded from the nationwide total eligibility and maximum participation figures reported above). All of the 80,760 K–12 students in Cleveland are eligible to receive a voucher. Additionally, about 40 percent of the state’s 1.9 million K–12 students living outside of Cleveland are from families that are income eligible for a scholarship, which is about 750,000 K–12 students.

Oklahoma (SB 1080)

Oklahoma lawmakers expanded the state’s tax-credit scholarship policy by raising the total amount of tax credits to $25 million from $3.5 million. The tax credit value is 50 percent of each contribution or 75 percent for multi-year pledges. If all contributions were multi-year, then the maximum tax-creditable contributions will be $33.3 million, up from $4.7 million. Assuming the same average scholarship size, the program could provide funding for about 14,200 additional students for a maximum participation of about 16,500 scholarship students. That’s the equivalent of 2.2 percent of the 750,000 K–12 students statewide.

Pennsylvania (SB 381)

Pennsylvania lawmakers expanded the tax credits available via the Educational Improvement Tax Credit to provide scholarships for students from low- and middle-income families by $40 million, to $175 million from $135 million. The tax credit value is 75 percent of each contribution or 90 percent for multi-year pledges. If all contributions were multi-year, as is typically the case, then the maximum tax-creditable contributions will be $194.4 million, up from $150 million. Assuming the same average scholarship size, the additional funds could provide scholarships for about 22,000 additional students for a maximum participation of about 96,400 scholarship students. That’s the equivalent of 4.7 percent of the two million K–12 students statewide. However, based on past modifications to the program, it is estimated that an additional 13,000 students will receive scholarships in addition to the 45,882 scholarships most recently awarded.

South Dakota (SB 175)

South Dakota lawmakers expanded the state’s tax-credit scholarship policy by removing the requirement that students first spend a year in a public school before being eligible for a scholarship. About 41 percent of families in the state are income-eligible to receive a scholarship, but it is not known how many current private school students are newly eligible. Currently, 863 students are receiving scholarships, which is about 0.5 percent of the state’s total 176,650 K–12 students. There was no funding increase in the program, so that number is not expected to change significantly.

Jason Bedrick is director of policy at EdChoice, where Ed Tarnowski is a state policy associate. Additional tables and descriptions of the state programs are available at EdChoice.org.

This content was originally published here.

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