Funding Education Opportunity: School choice in rural America, 2023 education legislation, and more
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Funding Education Opportunity Newsletter

Funding Education Opportunity: School choice in rural America, 2023 education legislation, and more

Plus: New research on how to fund public school transfer students, school closures and more.

With state legislatures now in session across the country, policymakers in states like Oklahoma and Texas are considering school choice proposals, Iowa is celebrating passing universal education savings accounts, and states like Arkansas and Missouri may take up the issue of open enrollment. New research on these key education issues can help policymakers and stakeholders.

For example, with rural lawmakers and school districts often opposed to school choice, a new report suggests that students residing in rural areas may have much to gain from school choice policies. A report by Heritage Foundation’s Jason Bedrick and Matthew Ladner finds most children living in rural areas are often closer to private school options than some might think. In fact, seven in 10 students living in rural areas live within 10 miles of a private elementary school. The report also found that the number of tax-credit scholarships awarded to Arizona students living in five rural counties increased by 163% between the 2010-11 and 2020-21 school years, showing how school choice policies can benefit students living in rural areas. 

Arizona’s robust school choice options, which “reach further into rural areas than in any other states,” have not been a death knell for rural school districts, the report says. In fact, since charter schools were first introduced in 1994, the state has only consolidated rural school districts in two counties, closed one school district (which had no charter or private schools in it), and created one new school district, Bedrick and Ladner noted.

This phenomenon is not unique to Arizona. Last year, Ron Matus and Dava Hankerson of Step Up for Students released a report showing the positive effects of school choice policies for families living in rural Florida. During the past 20 years, the number of private schools in the Sunshine State’s rural counties expanded from 69 to 120. Matus and Hankerson point out that, “In Florida’s rural counties, the number of students using ESAs [education savings accounts] has grown from 65 in year one to 731 last year, to 1,985 and counting this fall.” This demonstrates that the education marketplace can respond to demand when given a chance to compete with the public school districts’ monopolies. 

This year’s National School Choice Week also made it clear that more policymakers across the country are realizing that education freedom and rural school districts can thrive side by side. As Matus and Hakerson noted, “School choice doesn’t make the sky fall on rural district schools. But it does help part the clouds for rural families who need options for their children.”

And this rural education marketplace should also include public school open enrollment, a valuable school choice policy. A new Reason Foundation report also highlights how states can implement open enrollment funding policies that allow state and local education dollars to follow students to their public schools of choice. “States can take three different pathways to improve portability: comprehensive school finance reform, targeted solutions, and creating a distinct funding mechanism that supports open enrollment,” the study shows.

A competitive education marketplace can be the tide that raises all boats. 

From the States

State policymakers continue to introduce energetic school choice proposals across the nation.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Students First Act, which would provide universal education saving accounts to Iowa families. The new law makes all K-12 students in Iowa eligible to receive a $7,598 voucher. Iowa is now one of three states to have universal education savings accounts.

The Utah House and Senate both passed a proposal (House Bill 215) that would provide 5,000 K-12 students with approximately $8,000 in scholarships. Scholarship recipients could use them to pay for tutoring, private school tuition, and homeschooling. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill into law this past weekend.

In Missouri, a proposal by Rep. Ben Baker would require all school districts to participate in open enrollment. If passed, HB 559 would make Missouri’s open enrollment law the strongest in the nation.

Texas policymakers introduced two school choice proposals in January. Rep. Mayes Middleton introduced Senate Bill 176–the Texas Parental Empowerment Act would establish parent-controlled accounts which can be funded through tax credits. Parents could use these accounts to pay for approved education expenses, such as private school tuition or fees, books, or tutoring. House Bill 557, filed by Rep. Cody Vasut, would reimburse Texas parents for private school tuition and other education-related expenses, such as transportation costs.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and State Delegate Glenn Davis introduced a proposal (House Bill 1508) for education success accounts. Eligible students could use these accounts to pay for private school tuition and other approved educational expenses. Upon parents’ request, Virginia would transfer a percentage of the state funds that would otherwise have been allocated to the school district in which the student resides. The Virginia House Education Committee recently voted to advance the proposal, assigning it to the appropriations committee.

What to watch

Kentucky Anti-Charter School Lawsuit Riles School Choice Proponents. Although charter schools have been legal in Kentucky since 2017, none have ever opened. A 2022 law requiring two pilot charter schools in northern Kentucky aimed to change that, but the Council for Better Education, Jefferson County Public Schools, and Dayton Independent Schools recently filed a lawsuit to block the law from going into effect. 

Dayton Public Schools Faces Heavy Fine for Failing to Bus Charter School Students. Dayton Public Schools could be fined up to $750,000 by the Ohio Department of Education for not complying with a state law that requires school districts to provide transportation to students enrolled in charter schools that reside inside the school district. Dayton Public Schools stated that it couldn’t provide necessary transportation because of conflicting bell schedules and bus driver shortages. The school district is suing the state over the citation.

The First Round of West Virginia’s Hope Scholarships Distributed to Families. Approximately 1,800 recipients received their scholarships which can be used for private school tuition. Nearly 90% of recipients received the full annual amount of about $4,298. Earlier this month, the West Virginia treasurer filed an emergency amendment that would allow scholarship recipients to use their funds to pay for microschool tuition. If the secretary of state does not approve the rule by Feb. 15, it will automatically take effect. 

Recommended Reading 

Pandemic Schools and Religious Renewal
Lewis M. Andrews at National Affairs

“Senior centers, YMCAs, town halls, and other community venues that might normally have been available were, as a result of the pandemic, either closed, operating on limited hours, or committed to their own emergency efforts. By process of elimination, many families realized that the one place large enough, safe enough, and empty enough to run a small school during the workweek was the local parish.”

We Need to Prepare Now for The School Closures That Are Coming
Tim Daly at Fordham

“My advice to cities grappling with falling enrollment is to begin planning now. Engage in robust processes to take community input on which schools will close and when. But do not drag your feet hoping for a miracle that saves you from the scourge of closures altogether… Instead, invest your time and resources in helping families transition… Give families a real voice in determining their child’s new placement—and offer assistance in the pursuit of seats in charter schools, as well as traditional district schools.”

Public Schools Have Lost over a Million Students. Here’s Where They’re Going
Matthew Lee and Lynn Swaner at National Review

“Rising enrollments in choice schools, particularly in private schools, not only provide evidence of a continuing school-choice wave sweeping the country but also demonstrate how these learning environments will continue to be an important part of the United States’ educational fabric.”


Are you a state or local policymaker interested in education reform? Reason Foundation’s Education Policy team can help you make sense of complex school finance data and discuss innovative reform options that expand students’ educational opportunities. Please reach out to me directly at for more information.