This press release from the Alliance for School Choice shows how big a year 2005 was for the expansion of school choice. It is pretty impressive when you look at it all together. BACK TO SCHOOL: MORE CHILDREN THAN EVER WILL PARTICIPATE IN PRIVATE SCHOOL CHOICE PROGRAMS PHOENIXÃ¢â?¬â?? As American students return to school or enroll for the first time, more families than ever before will experience the expanding revolution in American education: the ability of parents to choose the best school for their children. Though there is still a long way to go, 2005 has been the most successful year yet for the national school choice movement, and 2006 looks even brighter. Record Number of States Introduced and Passed School Choice Bills Thirty-five states introduced targeted school choice bills this past legislative session. School choice legislation passed 19 legislative houses in 12 states: Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. K-12 school choice programs were in enacted in six states: Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah. Eligible Children, Public Funding Up 40 Percent From 2005 to 2006 This year, more than 93,000 children in targeted programs exercised the power of school choice. In 2006, the number of eligible children is projected to increase by nearly 40 percent to 130,000. The amount of public funds used for private school choice programs is also expected to increase 40 percent from $270 million in 2005 to $390 million in 2006. Bipartisan Support Among Governors Five governors urged passage of school choice legislation in state of the state messages: Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Two Democratic governors signed school choice bills: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. Democratic legislative leadership supported school choice bills in at least four states, including Louisiana, New York, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Two New School Choice Programs Ohio’s new statewide scholarship program will be the largest in the nation targeted to K-12 general education students in failing public schools, providing scholarships to 14,000 children in public schools on academic watch or academic emergency for three consecutive years. Utah’s Carson Smith Scholarship for Students With Special Needs Act authorizes the distribution of scholarships for Utah’s special needs children to attend private schools. Legislative efforts to pass a corporate scholarship tax credit in Arizona are still pending. Six Expanded School Choice Programs Arizona eliminated the marriage penalty of the individual tax credit program and raised the maximum amount that a couple can donate to a scholarship organization from $625 to $1,000. Florida increased the corporate scholarship tax credit cap from $50 to $88 million, doubling the current program that enables students to use scholarships to attend private schools. Minnesota enacted a $1.2 million expansion of the existing Education Tax Credit. Ohio extended eligibility of the Cleveland Scholarship Program to 11th and 12th-grade students and increased scholarship amounts from up to $3,000 for K-8 and $2,700 for high school to as much as $3,450 for all students. Ohio made permanent the pilot Autism Scholarship Program, increased scholarship amounts from $15,000 to $20,000 and removed the cap on the number of participants. Pennsylvania expanded the Education Tax Credit Program with a $4 million increase, two-thirds of which will go toward scholarships for 2,000 schoolchildren, and approved highly sought after reasonable additional reporting requirements to ensure accountability for scholarship, educational improvement and pre-K scholarship organizations involved in the credit program. Public Support for School Choice Strong and Growing Polls show 91.4 percent of Arizonans supported one or more of five school choice proposals before the Legislature with 65.6 percent “strongly in favor” of one or more programs. In Indiana, 55 percent polled were in favor of tuition vouchers for students who want to attend private school from elementary school through high school. Seventy-four percent of Texans support a pilot school choice or voucher program that would allow inner-city, at-risk or low-income the opportunity to go to another public, private or religious school. Challenges Still Many, But History Made Arizona and Wisconsin governors vetoed two bills. Louisiana made history when the House passed the state’s first-ever voucher bill. In several states, legislative efforts that fell short will provide a foundation for a new thrust in 2006. “In terms of the number of children and programs, 2005 has been the most successful year ever for school choice, despite the powerful forces blocking the exit doors from failing schools. Still, we need to accelerate the gains so that all children have access to high-quality education,” declared Clint Bolick, president and general counsel of the Alliance for School Choice, the Phoenix-based organization that leads the national effort to support school choice programs to expand opportunities for economically or otherwise disadvantaged schoolchildren.