School Choice Swings Florida Governor’s Race


If you need evidence of how powerful parent voices can be in American government, look no further than Florida’s recent gubernatorial contest.

There were a lot of nail-biters during the 2018 elections, but few were as closely watched by school choice advocates as the fight between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum. That race was so tight—and so fraught with controversy—that Gillum did not fully concede until November 17. (Technically, he conceded on election night, then re-entered the race when a recount was ordered.)

In the end, DeSantis won by a margin of .4 percent, or about 32,000 votes out of more than 8.2 million ballots cast. For that victory, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by William Mattox argues that Governor-Elect DeSantis should thank the roughly 100,000 African American women who voted for him because they support school choice.

Mr. Gillum, on the other hand, has to consider the possibility that his bid to become the state’s first black governor was torpedoed by his opposition to K-12 private school scholarship programs.

For those who don’t know, Florida operates the nation’s largest scholarship tax credit program. Enacted in 2001, that program serves more than 100,000 students attending around 1,500 private schools across the state. The Sunshine State is also home to a large special-needs voucher program, an ESA program, and now the anti-bullying Hope Scholarship Program.

The vast majority of students participating in the scholarship tax credit program come from minority families, with roughly 42 percent coming from African American families alone. Most of these students’ parents are registered Democrats, which means a very large portion of the 100,000 African American women who voted for DeSantis broke with their partisan preferences to do so. According to Mattox, this “ticket-splitting” occurred because DeSantis supported the scholarship programs on which their families depend. Had Gillum done the same—or had he at least not so publicly opposed choice policies—the outcome of the race might have been very different.

The data generally support this conclusion:

  • About 18 percent of African American women voted for DeSantis, while only 9 percent voted for Republican Senate candidate (and outgoing governor) Rick Scott.
  • That 18 percent represents more than double the GOP’s national average of 7 percent with African American women.
  • Despite general leanings toward the Democratic side of the aisle, strong majorities of African Americans support scholarship tax credits and other forms of private school scholarship programs.

It’s important to note that election behavior is complicated stuff, and there could be other issues that partially explain DeSantis’s higher-than-average support from a constituency that normally would not stand behind him. However, it’s hard to deny the fact that support for choice policies played a major role in the election, particularly with so many tens of thousands of families benefiting from expanded educational opportunity in Florida.

The moral of this story is that elected officials on both sides of the aisle would do well to remember the “school choice mom” vote. Parents deeply value opportunity for their children, and opposing the programs that make that opportunity possible can have serious consequences for those seeking office.

Feeling inspired? If you’d like to share your school choice story with your elected officials, you can do so in seconds by clicking the button below.  



Parental Choice as a Human Right?


So much has been written about parental choice in education that it can sometimes feel like every article is just an iteration of every other. Occasionally, though, someone publishes a that examines the issue from a totally new (and totally unexpected) angle. Case in point: a recent Education Post article on school choice as a human right.

Folks cite all sorts of documents in support of or opposition to broad-spectrum choice in education—the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions, various statutes, regulations, founding documents, etc. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), however, is rarely among them. The United Nations doesn’t exactly wade into many debates over education policy.

Former teacher Joe Nathan argues in his article that choice supporters may be missing an important argument by failing to recognize Article 26 of the UDHR when advocating for expanded educational options. That article reads:

  • Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  • Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  • Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Nathan specifically highlights the third point, which flatly states that parents have a “prior right” to choose what type of education their children receive. That right stands equal among others with which we are all familiar: the right to free association, the right to fair and equitable legal systems, and the right to life, liberty, and security of person.

The declaration stops short of calling for specific policy solutions, but it is rather unequivocal in its call for parental empowerment. Given the breadth of language, it is surprising that Nathan goes on to say that he opposes private school choice programs. He cites two primary reasons for this opposition, one about faith-based education and one about admissions practices in schools receiving “public funds.” Through these points of contention, he seems to imply that choices should be limited to those provided in the public education sector (and even then, he opposes public magnet schools for certain types of children).

In point of fact, scholarship tax credit programs, which are the most widely used form of private school choice, rely solely on private funding rather than state money. But even setting aside that important caveat, I think Nathan misses the mark on this point.

The UDHR does not state that parents have a prior right to choose the type of “public” education their children will receive. It also does not state that parents should be free to choose among only secular options, or that schools with more rigorous admissions processes should be excluded. It says that parents have a prior right to make choices about “education,” period. If we’re talking about a broadly applicable human right, attempting to limit it or oppose certain iterations of it seems both dangerous and contrary to the spirit of the document being cited. After all, “prior rights” can’t be revoked or circumscribed. That’s kind of the point.

The UDHR itself seems to agree, stating specifically in Article 2 that the rights apply to everyone “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” It would be very difficult to argue that restricting the types of schools parents have a right to choose would not draw a “distinction of any kind” based on certain beliefs or opinions. Parents ought to have access to the educational options that work best for their children, full stop. Whether those options are provided in the public or private sectors is immaterial.

Setting aside specific policy disagreements, however, Nathan has done the choice debate a service by framing it in a different light. Now if you’ll excuse us, we have human rights to fight for.


2018 Election Day Impacts (Part 2)


Last week, we covered the likely federal impacts of the 2018 elections. As promised, we’ll now turn our attention to state-level impacts in a few key ACE states.

ACE Scholarships currently serves about 7,000 students across eight states. We don’t expect the elections to have a major impact on parental choice policy in some states, but others have seen some pretty significant shifts that are worth watching. Below you will find a brief overview of the highlights. Wherever you live, it’s always a good time for your elected officials to hear from you. If you’re a parent, student, or educator, take a few minutes to tell your legislators what school choice means to you using the button below.


Colorado has turned from purple to dark blue. The Colorado State Senate changed partisan hands and will now be controlled by Democrats, and Democrats held a strong majority in the already-blue State House of Representatives. With Democrat Jared Polis as governor and every statewide office won by Democrats, conversations about expanded parental choice may be more difficult. That said, the issue of educational opportunity does not and should not fall neatly along partisan battle lines. Support for parental choice policy, and especially for scholarship tax credit programs like those ACE facilitates in two states, remains strong across both political parties nationwide.

Colorado has a very strong public charter sector as well as extensive public school open enrollment, but tens of thousands of students still find themselves unable to access the schools they need. Choice supporters will need to work hard to educate elected officials about why access to private options matters to their communities. A great place to start would be getting familiar with the amazing ACE partner schools in each state legislative district.


The defeat of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach by Democrat Laura Kelly could complicate conversations about expansions to the Kansas scholarship tax credit program, which ACE helps facilitate. Kobach was a strong supporter of the program, but Kelly’s position remains to be seen. The program is one of the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to student eligibility: Scholarship students must be eligible for free lunch (household income of 130 percent of federal poverty guidelines or less) and attend one of the state’s lowest-performing 100 public schools. Partially as a result of these restrictions, the program served just 292 students as of January 2018.

Revisiting student eligibility requirements to bring the program more in line with other programs nationwide could vastly improve its ability to serve Kansas families. In the meantime, ACE will continue working to serve its hundreds of scholarship families who do not participate in the scholarship tax credit program.


Texas saw no major partisan shifts statewide or in either state legislative chamber. However, the margins in a number of key races—including the U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz (R) and Beto O’Rourke (D)—were much closer than many had anticipated. Whether those margins are evidence of a coming political shift or the result of a temporary surge is not immediately clear. In either case, narrower-than-usual margins could cause some Texas Republicans to avoid political risks despite maintaining strong grasps on all areas of the state government. Then again, some Republicans may be feeling confident about having survived the “blue wave” of 2018. We will have to wait and see how these tighter margins will impact efforts to expand parental choice for the state’s roughly 4.7 million public school students heading into the 2019 legislative session.


Wyoming has historically been one of the most politically stable states in the country in terms of state legislative control, and 2018 was no exception. Republicans maintained control of both state legislative chambers this year. The state does, however, have tendency to swap partisan control of the governor’s office regularly. It seems to have broken that pattern this time, electing Republican Mark Gordon to replace term-limited Republican incumbent Matt Mead. Continued Republican control of the governor’s office could factor significantly into future policy conversations in the state.


2018 Election Day Impacts (Part 1)


Every election is wild, but the 2018 midterm was particularly heated. As the dust settles, a number of folks have asked us how we expect the results to impact parental choice in ACE states. Obviously, that’s a big question. There are always a thousand nuances involved in legislative politics, and we won’t know for certain how the elections will affect policy debates until the new folks officially take office and get to work. That said, we can make some high-level predictions in some areas.

To keep things a little more manageable, we’ll split this analysis into two separate posts: One on federal impacts and one on state legislative impacts in ACE states. We’ll tackle federal impacts today.

As anticipated, Democrats gained control of the U.S. House of Representatives. The party needed 23 seats to flip the chamber. As of this morning, they had gained 31 net seats. Check out this handy informational page from Politico if you want to dive into more detail. The U.S. Senate, however, remained Republican, which sets up an interesting divided-government situation that will force both parties to compromise if they want to move legislation.

From an education perspective, the most notable impact of the House power shift is that Democrats will now control the House Education and Workforce Committee, which is responsible for oversight of federal education policy. The make-up of that committee will also change substantially, as several GOP incumbents lost their re-election bids.

The changing of the guard in the House will also flip control of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is widely considered the single most powerful elected committee in the United States. While that committee typically does not tackle education issues, it does play a critical role in funding and tax conversations that could directly or indirectly impact education policy and programs through the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. In particular, altering the new limits on local tax deductions (SALT) could impact scholarship tax credit programs across the country.

(NOTE: ACE is currently monitoring the SALT issue, and the associated IRS rulemaking process, very closely. If you’d like to engage in that conversation and connect with your federal elected officials, you can do so using the button below.)

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In practical terms, here is what we can expect at the federal level as it relates to ACE:

  1. Congressional fixes for issues related to the SALT deduction cap are less likely. Under the committee’s new leadership, which will take over in January 2019, legislative action to exempt scholarship-granting organizations from onerous new IRS rules on charitable contribution deductions seems unlikely. It is not impossible that the Republican-held Congress could try to act before then, but that seems unlikely given that is has other priorities before January and has made no such move to date. ACE argued in its official public comment on the rule that Congress is better positioned to handle this largely statutory issue than the IRS itself.
  2. But that doesn’t mean changes won’t be considered. It is not impossible that members of the newly Democratic Ways and Means Committee would advance legislation to heavily modify or even repeal some provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2019. Given that the IRS proposed rule largely seeks to address workaround schemes in blue states, it is well within the realm of possibilities that we could see the issue of charitable contribution deductions revisited in the House. Whether or not any changes made could survive the Republican Senate is another matter.
  3. A national parental choice policy probably isn’t coming any time soon. Choice supporters should not expect to see much progress on the idea of a national K-12 scholarship program in the near future. In fairness, that was also largely true when Republicans held the House. The good news is that we can and should expect widespread and successful efforts continue in state legislatures across the country.
  4. We could see increased scrutiny and “oversight” of parental choice policies and programs. We’ve seen similar federal efforts before, though these efforts have been led by executive agencies and have come to naught. Whether or not this activity would continue or intensify under a new committee structure is an open question. If it does, it could create interesting dynamics between Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, and state governments.

It’s Election Day – Have You Voted?

It’s election day in America! That means you can soon expect (some of) the uproar to die down, the political ads to (mostly) disappear, and the talking heads on television to (sometimes) find a few new topics of conversation.

There’s nothing wrong with being excited about these things. But there’s another reason to be excited about election day in America, and that’s the opportunity to make your voice heard.

The right to vote is one of the most important rights granted to Americans. It represents the most direct way for you to influence your government, express your opinions, and fight for your beliefs. Even more importantly, civic engagement—and particularly civic engagement through voting—forms the bedrock of American government. Without educated, engaged citizens, our republic can’t function.

Filling in those little bubbles on your ballot or pulling the lever may not feel like much in the moment. It may even feel like an annoying chore. The issues are often complicated and messy, casting an informed vote takes time, and that vote may be just one of millions. But it matters. In particular, some state races can be decided by surprisingly small margins in which every vote literally counts. Even in larger races or ballot questions, a few thousand people sitting out the election can make all the difference.

If you still don’t think your vote matters, consider this: What if 92 million other people felt the same way? Because they do.

Regardless of the impacts of a single vote, the simple act of researching issues, forming opinions, and translating those opinions into action is critical part of being a parent, a leader, and an American. Like practicing for a sport, this kind of civic engagement trains your mind to think about the policy issues that matter most to you. It also helps you exercise the muscles that allow you to stand up and participate in your government as a proud citizen—not a subject—of a free, self-governed nation.

Think about it: You have been empowered to advocate for yourself, for your community, and for your nation in a way that many millions in other parts of the world cannot. An awful lot of folks have put an awful lot of blood into ensuring you have that right. Isn’t exercising it worth a little time out of your day?

If you have not already, get out there and vote. Whichever candidates you support, wherever you fall on the issues, GO VOTE. You can use this tool to look up your closest polling place. See you at the polls!