House and Senate to vote on second round of anti-EFA bills this week


The second group of bills to saddle the Education Freedom Account program with onerous red tape will be considered this week by the state House and Senate.

State lawmakers took up the first set of regulatory measures last week, voting down both House Bills 1512 and 1594. 

This week, the House will vote on HB 1418, 1610 and 1654, while the Senate considers Senate Bill 525

HB 1418, 1610 and 1654 seek to impose new controls on the EFA program, both its providers and participants. 

HB 1418 prohibits the purchase of school uniforms with EFA funds. 

In some academic settings, school uniforms are an essential part of a student’s education. The only way to receive an education at these institutions is to purchase and wear the required uniform. The point of the uniform typically is to instill a positive culture and reduce distractions. 

Uniforms “create an atmosphere in our schools that promotes discipline and order and learning,” as President Bill Clinton put it in 1996 when endorsing school uniforms during a visit to the Long Beach, Calif., school district (which still requires uniforms). Uniforms have long been viewed as a valuable tool for creating a disciplined, structured learning environment, so it’s unclear why they wouldn’t be an allowed educational expense.

The two other House bills, HB 1610 and 1654, target providers. Both bills would impose a set of costly requirements on EFA providers that would fundamentally discourage their participation in the program.

HB 1610 would require all educational settings in the state to administer standardized statewide tests in English language arts, reading and math. 

One characteristic of the growing education marketplace is a shift away from using standardized assessments as a primary measurement of student learning progress. In choosing an unconventional educational environment that accepts EFA funds, a parent might specifically seek a learning model that doesn’t assess student progress with standardized testing at all. 

The diversity of curricula and instructional methods among EFA vendors makes it impossible for a single standardized test to measure student learning accurately. Many (possibly most) curricula would not be aligned to the test. HB 1610 would lead to artificially low scores simply because of misalignment, creating the false impression that rich, quality programs are inadequate. 

By requiring all EFA education providers to administer standardized statewide assessments to the program’s participants, HB 1610 would force a one-size-fits-all learning measure on a decentralized and diverse program with a variety of learning models to choose from. Forcing this uniformity on families who strive to escape such constrictions might be the whole point. 

HB 1654, meanwhile, would subject all EFA providers to an annual state review to check their adherence to state and federal anti-discrimination laws. 

The legislation is duplicative, as all education service providers in the EFA program are required by state law to comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Adding an additional layer of compliance costs on these vendors only serves to increase costs and further discourage provider participation in the program.

Over to the Senate, SB 525 takes proposed oversight of the EFA program to a new level. Similar to HB 1594 last week, the Senate’s bill would require EFA participants’ household incomes to be at or below the income cap for eligibility (currently 350% of the federal poverty level) each year during the student’s participation in the program. Currently, income is verified upon application.

Were annual income testing to become law, some students would lose their EFA even when parents receive small raises. This would create needless and potentially damaging disruptions to these students’ educations. You can read our analysis of the House’s similar measure here

Beyond that, SB 525 would also set reporting requirements and annual income verification audits for the program. Under SB 525, the state would verify continued income eligibility compliance among participants by subjecting a random one-third of EFA families to an audit every year. 

The Legislative Budget Assistant’s office wrote that it does not have authority to review families’ private records, so the state would have to obtain participating families’ financial records before reviews could be conducted. The large percentage of reviews required in the bill runs against the LBA’s standards and practices for audits, as it bases sample sizes on a program’s risk assessment. The LBA wrote in a fiscal note on the bill that conducting the hundreds of reviews required by SB 525 could add costs to the LBA’s budget and affect its ability to conduct its other required audits in a timely fashion.

Such an intrusive income verification regime would not only burden a state agency with hundreds of additional audits annually but would suppress participation in a program that, as we’ve noted before, saves taxpayers money. 

Any benefits to the state from these bills would be minimal, while the costs to participating families would be significant and the impact on taxpayers would be negative. These regulations seem to serve no other purpose beyond crippling EFAs and restricting their use.