ACE Partner School COVID-19 Survey Findings

ACE Scholarships (ACE) has undertaken several surveys to determine what partner schools and parents experienced due to the pandemic and subsequent remote learning. In addition, we looked forward to the upcoming fall school year to find out plans and needs.

Key findings on remote learning:

    • Nearly 50 percent of classes cannot be effectively taught online in elementary school.
    • Schools report student engagement has declined by more than 70 percent overall from the beginning to the end of the school year remote learning.
    • More than two-thirds of partner schools provided remote learning devices or Wi-Fi access to all or students who needed them. Another 20 percent would have provided them if they had the funds to do so.
    • Almost two-thirds of partner schools added social and emotional learning (SEL) and coping to aid their students and families. SEL will be continued by schools in the coming 2020/21 school year.
    • Fifty percent of schools maintained direct student interaction via online platforms and did not want nor plan to outsource that to third party remote learning systems.
    • The three highest priority needs for teachers are:
      • training to understand how remote learning differs from in-person learning,
      • remote learning technology training, i.e. video conferring and online lesson platforms,
      • and maintaining connectivity among educators.
    • Teachers are spending significantly more time:
      • managing technology (96 percent),
      • assisting parents with managing technology (88 percent),
      • and contacting students after normal school hours (87 percent).

Key findings on remote learning loss or the ‘COVID slide’:

    • More than 60 percent of schools estimate the loss to be one to three months.
    • The median learning loss estimate is 2.5 months.
    • Learning loss recovery is mixed:
      • The median recovery of the learning loss is 2.8 months.
      • 16 schools expect the learning loss recovery to take almost the entire school year.
      • Six schools expect recovery to take multiple school years.

Key findings on COVID-19 related costs to schools (included tuition loss):

    • The median cost to partner schools is $112, 617.
    • ACE partner schools serve on average 36 percent of low-income students with a high of more than 49 percent in Louisiana and 23 percent in Montana.

Key findings for families:

    • Almost 60 percent of families believe life after COVID-19 will be somewhat or much harder.
    • More than 63 percent of families suffered fiscal impact due to the shutdowns.
    • More than 12 percent have no or limited access to remote learning technology. The highest technology barriers are:
      • Limited or no high-speed internet access (62 percent)
      • Lack of access to required hardware (36 percent)

Schools, parents, and students have concerns over remote learning versus in-person learning. The amount of course work that schools report cannot be taught effectively remotely is highest in elementary school and decreases into high school, i.e. the younger a child is the more direct and personal instruction they need.

In addition to the classes that cannot be effectively taught online, teachers are spending more time preparing their lessons to put online. They are spending more time managing technology than before, while spending less time instructing students.

As the pandemic shutdown progressed, schools report student engagement decreased over time with almost 35 percent by a little, more than 26 percent somewhat, and 11 percent with a significant decline.

The social and emotional impact of the pandemic shutdown could have contributed to the decline in engagement since almost two-thirds of partner schools reported adding social and emotional learning (SEL) and coping to aid their students and families. These schools are planning on continuing and even adding more SEL this coming school year.

Besides the declining student engagement, many students had barriers to remote learning with the lack of laptops, iPads, etc. and the lack of reliable high-speed internet access.

Many schools did provide students with devices and WiFi if they could afford to do so.

Almost 51 percent of schools maintained direct student interaction via online platforms and did not want nor plan to outsource that to third party remote learning systems. Schools feel it is more important for many students to have direct instructional contact with their regular teachers instead of a third-party learning system.

The rapid transition to remote learning left many teachers scrambling. Schools rank their top two needs as training to understand how remote learning differs from in-person learning and training on how to use video conferencing and other online platforms.

Teachers are not immune to the social and emotional impacts of exclusive remote learning. Schools ranked the need to maintain teacher connectivity and social and emotional support for staff as the third and fourth greatest needs.

Another key element of the pandemic induced remote learning is what many are calling the “COVID slide”. To gage the impact on students at ACE partner schools, we asked about the typical summer slide, the COVID slide, and the time needed to recover the lost learning. This is what we found. There is minimal learning loss during the typical summer slide. The average learning loss due to the COVID slide is estimated at 2.5 months, with a recovery time of 2.8 months. Recovery time is very mixed with 16 schools expect the learning loss recovery to take almost the entire school year and six schools expect recovery to take multiple school years.

Private schools have taken a financial hit in conjunction with the learning loss. The median cost to partner schools is $112, 617. On average, these schools serve 36 percent of low-income students with a high of more than 49 percent in Louisiana and 23 percent in Montana.

Families were also hit hard economically with loss of jobs, reduced hours, or the need to stay home due to their children’s school being shut down, and loss of loved ones.

This impact will be long-lasting according to the families. They shared their concern that life is not going to return to normal anytime soon with almost 60 percent saying life after COVID-19 will be somewhat or much harder.




ACE Scholarships Partner School Survey Questions and Results

Surveys Emailed: 638

Survey Responses: 323

  1. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, did students at your school regularly engage in remote learning?
  2. How are remote learning lesson materials delivered to families?
  3. Did your school provide iPads, laptops, WiFi hotspots, ect. to students or families during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  4. Have you implemented any additional social and emotional support into the classroom during this period of remote learning?
  5. Please describe the additional social and emotional support you have implemented:
  6. Are you currently using any third party distance learning service?
  7. Please rate your satisfaction level with your current distance learning service? [Only rate products that you currently use]

    *Some schools use multiple platforms.
    **Other platforms include those with single-digit usage and include: Abeka Academies, Alpha Omega, Apex Learning Virtual School, Bob Jones University, Class Dojo, Edgenuity, FlipGrid, FuelEd, Ignitia, Instructure, IXL, Jupiter Ed, K12 Academies, Lalilo, Lexia Learning, Mindspark Learning, Pearson Online Academy, Schoology,, Veritas Learning Lab, Wittenberg Academy, Xtra Math

  8. What percentage of each remote learning delivery method are your teachers using?
  9. Please rank your staff needs to facilitate better remote learning? [Only rank the items your staff needs]
  10. Please rate the time your teachers are spending on each of the following aspects of teaching during the pandemic versus before the pandemic: [Only rate items your teachers are spending time on]
  11. How much time are your teachers spending to prepare and put their lessons online as compared to when they were in the classroom?
  12. What percentage of lessons cannot be effectively taught/performed online (labs, experiments, hands-on lessons, etc)?
  13. How frequently are teachers communicating with parents?
  14. What is your school’s expectation for teacher turnover in 2020-2021 as compared to a normal year?
  15. What do your students need to succeed in a remote learning environment? [Only rank items your students’ need]
  16. How has student engagement changed from the first day of the pandemic remote learning to the present?
  17. How frequently are students required to _________?
  18. How many students are meeting these class requirements?
  19. How frequently has your school been communicating with parents for reasons other than remote learning during the pandemic?
  20. What methods are you using to communicate with parents? [Check all that apply]
  21. How effective have parents been at assisting with at-home learning for the following grade levels? [Only rate grades that are applicable to your school]
  22. How willing have parents been to assist with at-home learning for the following grade levels? [Only rate grades that are applicable to your school]
  23. Thinking about the 2019-20 school year, how are you handling grade promotion?
  24. Please estimate your expectation for student enrollment changes for your school for the 2020-21 school year?

    This data is unusable.  It showed an average of 39% increase with none saying any loss of students. They appeared to misunderstand the question.

  25. What are your plans for your school for the 2020-21 school year?
  26. What is the main reason you are closing permanently?

    Two schools responded and both said Loss of tuition revenue

  27. How would you rate the typical summer learning slide of your students?
  28. How many months of learning loss do you expect due to the impact of COVID-19 related issues?

    Average expected learning loss due to remote learning due to COVID-19 is 2.5 months.

  29. How long do you believe it will take an average student at your school to recoup learning losses suffered during the pandemic?

    Average time schools expect students to regain their education losses due to the COVID slide is 2.8 months. Sixteen schools expect learning recovery to take almost one entire school year and six schools expect it to take more than one school year.

  30. How would you rate the social and emotional impact of the COVID-19 crisis on your students?
  31. Will you be implementing any social and emotional support into the classroom for the 2020-21 school year?
  32. School Affiliation
  33. Grade levels served [Check all that apply]
  34. Tuition
  35. Population Density
  36. Please indicate costs, and if possible, estimated amounts incurred by your school as a result of COVID-19. This can be a total sum or a list of items and their individual costs.

    The average COVID-19 costs and loss of revenue for the schools that could identify their costs, the average is $112,617.

  37. What percentage of students does your school serve who meet the guidelines of the federal free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program?

ACE Scholarships Family Survey Questions and Results

  1. Has your family been financially impacted through involuntary loss of job or unpaid leave?
  2. Do you work in an essential industry?
  3. How would you describe your relationship to the children living in your house?
  4. Do you have access to the technology needed to accommodate remote learning for your children (high-speed internet, computer availability, etc.)?
  5. What is the primary barrier to remote learning?
  6. How many devices (computers, tablets, etc.) in your home are available or readily accessible for remote learning?
  7. How does your child’s school deliver its remote-learning lessons?
  8. How have COVID-19 and the related closures affected your life, family situation, and learning experience for your children? (Please describe in the box below)
  9. After the COVID-19 crisis, life will be:
  10. Have you or your school undertaken any efforts to serve your community during this time of crisis? (Please describe these efforts in the box below)
  11. Would you be willing to share your family’s story on the impact of the ACE scholarship received? (Interview for written story, video recording, etc.)
  12. School Affiliation
  13. Household Income
  14. Age
  15. Race
  16. Gender

U.S. ED Delivers Huge CARES Win for Private Schools

If you’re finding the whirlwind of information, materials, and requirements about the implementation of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act overwhelming, you aren’t alone! As one of the largest-scale pieces of legislation passed in American history, the CARES Act has created daunting challenges for state and federal agencies, local leaders, and policy groups alike.

The ACE team has been working for weeks to stay ahead of the CARES Act implementation curve, and we wanted to provide you with an update on several key programs affecting private schools.

GEER and ESSER Fund Equitable Services

New Federal Guidance on Equitable Services is a Huge Win

Yesterday, the United States Department of Education released federal guidance on precisely how state and local educational agencies must allocate CARES aid to private schools under the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund and Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief (ESSER) Fund. See this previous post for more information on these programs.

The guidance mirror recommendations that ACE has been pushing at a variety of levels for weeks, and it represents a huge win for private schools across the country. In short, this eight-page document preempts months or even years of fighting with education systems for fair treatment of private schools and families. And it spared thousands of private-school students from being shut out in the cold.

Here’s the short rundown of what the guidance says on the big questions:

  • Every non-profit private school is eligible to receive aid, regardless of student residence in a Title I attendance area or previous participation in equitable services under existing Title programs.
  • Every private school student is eligible to receive services provided with CARES aid, regardless of status as low income, at risk, or any other special category.
  • State ed departments and school districts must start new notification and consultation processes to ensure that every private school has an opportunity to access these funds. Previously, many state ed departments were looking to force CARES aid into existing federal funding timelines, most of which have already closed for the year. That would have meant that hundreds of schools missed a train they didn’t even know was coming.
  • Aid must be calculated using direct proportionality equations that factor in ALL private school students. This calculation will provide, by far, the largest possible per-pupil allocation of aid to private schools. See below for an example directly from the federal guidance:

*Non-public schools participating under the CARES Act programs.

What can schools and families do to ensure we receive the CARES aid to which we are legally entitled?

Here are some immediate action items we strongly recommend for all our partner schools nationwide:

1. Contact your private-school ombudsman. By federal law, every state must have one of these ombudsmen, who are responsible for advocating on behalf of private schools and ensuring that they receive federal aid to which they are due.

You can use our digital advocacy campaign to send a message to your state’s ombudsman in a matter of seconds. You can also look them up directly using this directory. They need to know you are counting on them to help your school!

2. Contact your local school district’s Title-funding office or superintendent. Ask them how they intend to approach equitable services for private schools in their districts and remind them that your school needs help. In particular, you will want to make sure that they are thinking through timelines, processes, and requirements that maximize access to this aid on the part of private schools.

Remember, every dollar you do not receive is another dollar the school district can spend on something else. As a result, these districts may not have a strong incentive to look out for your school’s best interests. You must be your own best advocate! We know this can be daunting, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us at

3. Contact your state governor regarding his or her discretionary funds. Governors have wide latitude when it comes to allocating these funds, and private schools are entitled to receive “equitable services” from their school districts under this program if those school districts utilize funding for eligible purposes.

There are many, many groups competing for this funding. It is critical for your governor to hear from you about your school’s needs during this difficult time. If you haven’t already, you can use our digital advocacy campaign to contact your governor in a matter of seconds.

Other Grant Opportunities

Education Stabilization Fund Discretionary Grants

This week, the U.S. Dept. of Education announced yet another CARES Act aid program for K-12 schools. This one provides $307.5 million in discretionary grants. Of the total, $180 million is reserved for the Rethink K-12 School Models Grant and $127.5 million is reserved for the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant.

Grants given under the Rethink K-12 School Models Program can be used for the following purposes:

1. Microgrants for families, so that states can ensure they have access to the technology and educational services they need to advance their learning

2. Statewide virtual learning and course access programs, so that students will always be able to access a full range of subjects, even those not taught in the traditional or assigned setting

3. New, field-initiated models for providing remote education not yet imagined, to ensure that every child is learning and preparing for successful careers and lives

In particular, the microgrants provide a potential opportunity for private-school families to access much-needed tuition or other assistance. We strongly encourage you to contact your state private-school ombudsman and encourage him or her to advocate for the inclusion of private schools in any grant application filed under this program.

There are fewer details available about the Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grant Program as of this writing, but we will update this post with further information when we receive it. You can read more about both programs here.

USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the application window for funds under the Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant Program to July 13, 2020.

This lesser-known program is focused primarily on providing educational opportunities and access to medical services in rural communities. It is open to government agencies, businesses, and even nonprofits—which means many private schools may be eligible for funding. Grants can be used for the following purposes:

      • Acquisition of eligible capital assets, such as:
          • Broadband transmission facilities
          • Audio, video and interactive video equipment
          • Terminal and data terminal equipment
          • Computer hardware, network components, and software
          • Inside wiring and similar infrastructure that further DLT services
      • Acquisition of instructional programming that is a capital asset
      • Acquisition of technical assistance and instruction for using eligible equipment

These grants require a 15-percent match on the part of the participant and are awarded via a competitive application process. You can read more about this program and find application instructions here.

CARES Act Resources for K-12 Private Schools

In the week since Congress passed the CARES Act,  informational materials and resources have been made available to help schools, families, and small business navigate the complicated process. We have compiled some resources in case they can be helpful to your families, staff, or schools during this challenging time.

Support for Schools

Equitable services for private schools

The CARES Act allows private schools to receive fully or partially subsidized “equitable services” from their local educational agencies. You can read more about the available services here.

Accessing the maximum amount of support will require both state education agencies and local school districts to fairly assess the needs of private schools and allocate resources accordingly.

To best advocate for your school to receive the equitable services you need, private schools need to contact their state Equitable Services Ombudsmen as soon as possible. Tell them about the challenges your school is facing, and encourage them to advocate strongly for you to receive the help you need and deserve.

Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Loan Program

$350 billion in federal loans are available to all employers (including nonprofits) with 500 or fewer employees. Many of these loans can be forgiven if funds are used only for required purposes. 

Note that the loans may, in some cases, include requirements related to federal employment and non-discrimination law. We encourage you to review the below items—and the terms of the loans—with your boards, finance teams, and legal counsel.

Here are some resources you may find helpful:

Additional charitable giving incentives for 2020
The CARES Act makes several changes to incentivize giving to nonprofits for the duration of 2020. These changes are as follows:
  • Increases the percentage of income that itemizing taxpayers can deduct for charitable contributions from 60 percent to 100 percent
  • Increases the percentage of income that corporate taxpayers can deduct for charitable contributions from 10 percent to 25 percent
  • Adds a “universal deduction” of up to $300 for taxpayers who do not itemize (i.e., those who take the standard deduction)
Potential access to funds through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund
We have been advised by several national partners that the U.S. Department of Education is considering rules (to be released next week) that would allow private schools to access direct funding made available to states for educational support.

This funding would be in addition to the equitable services private schools can access through their local school districts under the CARES Act (please see here for more details on equitable services access).

While final guidance from the U.S. Department of Education will be needed to confirm the availability of cash funding, we encourage any of you who are interested to share your stories of need with your governor. Please see below for contact information by state:

Governor Asa Hutchinson   Contact | Social
Governor Jared Polis   Contact | Social
Governor Laura Kelly   Contact | Social
Governor John Bel Edwards   Contact | Social
Governor Mark Parson   Contact | Social
Governor Steve Bullock    Contact | Social
Governor Greg Abbott   Contact | Social
Governor Mark Gordon  Contact | Social

Support for Families and Staff

More Resources?

If you have other resources that you think that other schools would benefit from, please feel free to send them to Katrina Yoshida at we can disseminate the information. 

Related Articles:

COVID-19 Stimulus Package and What It Means For K-12 Private Schools

Earlier today, the United States House of Representatives used a voice vote to pass an enormous $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package—the largest such bill in United States history. The bill will now head to President Trump for signature, which is expected to happen quickly.

We know that many of you have questions about what the stimulus might mean for your schools. With that in mind, the ACE Policy team has conducted an initial analysis of those portions of the bill that affect K-12 private schools.

The bill is 880 pages long, but private schools will want to pay particular attention to Sections 18002, 18003, and 18005, which begin on page 754. These sections deal with how emergency education funds (totaling $30.75 billion) will be allocated across states and local educational agencies.

Below is an initial overview of all three main sections and how they connect to private schools.

Overview of CARES Act Provisions Related K-12 Private Education

Section 18002 (p. 754, line 12) – Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (about 10 percent of the total funding available)

This section allows states to submit applications for grant money from the federal government. That grant money will be allocated based on states’ relative population of students between the ages of 5 and 24, as well as the relative number of school-age children counted for federal funding purposes under the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA).

States can use the funds awarded under this section for the following purposes:

  • Providing emergency grants to local educational agencies (school districts) that the state education agency (state department of ed) deems to have been most significantly impacted by coronavirus
  • Providing emergency grants to institutions of higher education serving students that the governor deems to have been most significantly affected by coronavirus
  • Provide support to “any other institution of higher education, local educational agency, or education-related entity within the state that the governor deems essential for carrying out emergency services to students for [higher education], the provision of child care and early childhood education, social and emotional support, and the protection of education-related jobs.”
Section 18003 (p. 756, line 12) – Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (about 40 percent of the total funding available)

This section allows states to apply for emergency relief grants from the federal government. Funds will be allocated by the proportion of Title I, Part A funding received by states under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

States can use these funds to provide subgrants to local educational agencies (school districts) for the following purposes:

  • Any activity authorized by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NOTE: this would include services for low-income and at-risk students), the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and a variety of other existing federal laws.
  • Coordination of preparedness and response efforts of local educational agencies to fight coronavirus
  • “Providing principals and other school leaders with the resources necessary to address the needs of their individual schools” (i.e., unrestricted block grants)
  • Activities to address the unique needs of low-income children or students, children with disabilities, English learners, racial and ethnic minorities, homeless and foster students, etc.
  • Training and professional development for staff of the local educational agency on sanitation and infectious disease suppression
  • Purchasing sanitizing and/or cleaning supplies
  • Planning for and coordinating long-term closures, provision of meals to eligible students, provision of technology for online learning to all students, provision of services to students with disabilities, etc.
  • Purchasing educational technology for students that aids in “regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors”
  • Providing mental health services and support
  • Planning and implementing activities related to summer learning and supplemental after-school programs, including summer learning for low-income students, students with disabilities, English learners, migrant students, homeless students, and foster students.
  • “Other activities that are necessary to maintain the operation and continuity of services in local educational agencies”
Section 18005 (P. 764, line 11) – Assistance to Non-Public Schools

This is the big one—the section that allows K-12 private schools to access the assistance under the CARES Act.

Section 18005 allows K-12 private schools to access, through their local school districts, “equitable services” under Sections 18002 and 18003 above. Note that, as with current equitable services under federal law, schools CANNOT receive actual funding under those sections. They CAN, however, receive fully or partially subsidized services covered under the CARES Act. 

(UPDATE: Upon further guidance from the U.S. Department of Education, it seems that governors may indeed be able to send funds directly to private schools or families under the Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund should they so choose.)

To better understand how the equitable services process works, please see this white paper. Note that the paper focuses primarily on Colorado. While federal requirements for equitable services cover all states, exact processes may vary in your state and/or locality. For specific questions, the best person to contact in is your state department of education’s Equitable Services Ombudsman. You can find an official directory of all state ombudsmen here

What comes next?

The passage of the CARES Act is a massive step, but the conversation is not over. Both the United States Department of Education and state departments of education will need to have significant discussions about how funding is allocated under these grant programs. And private schools will still need to interface with their local school districts to access equitable services under the act.

Further, which allocation formulae states adopt with regard to equitable services for private schools could have large impacts on how many resources are ultimately made available on the ground. ACE will be watching these conversations closely and will follow up with you as needed.



COVID-19 and Educational Choice in ACE States

It’s getting wild out there! We at ACE would like to encourage all our families, students, and partner schools to take care of themselves during this difficult time.

In the meantime, we know many of you have been anxiously watching (and participating in) legislative discussions related to educational choice in your states. We want to provide a quick update on where each of those conversations stand right now—and what we can expect to come next.


Arkansas does not have a regular legislative session in 2020. Instead, the state is scheduled to hold a fiscal session for several weeks beginning on April 8. That fiscal session will not include discussion of any form of new state K-12 scholarship program at this time.

It remains to be seen whether or how the coronavirus will impact this session, but ACE does not anticipate any direct impact on our Arkansas scholarship programs at this time.


The Colorado General Assembly will temporarily adjourn until at least March 30. Given the expanding pandemic, we believe the adjournment could last even longer.

The shutdown leaves in limbo three separate bills related to the use of 529 educational savings accounts for K-12 tuition. Here’s a quick rundown of those bills:

  • HB 1034 Colin Larson is once again running a bill that would allow families to access their educational savings for K-12 tuition without fear of state tax penalties. Unfortunately, the bill likely does not have the political support it needs to survive the Colorado House of Representatives.
  • SB 073 This bill is a new version of the same bill ACE has opposed and defeated for the past two legislative sessions. It would explicitly forbid parents from using 529 accounts for K-12 tuition despite federal law to the contrary and codify penalties against parents who do so.
  • Potential compromise – ACE has been working with a variety of stakeholders to craft a bipartisan compromise that would allow families to access their savings for K-12 tuition under certain circumstances. Unfortunately, leadership in the House has yet to greenlight the compromise despite support from both sides of the aisle.

How the current shutdown will affect these bills remains to be seen. But at the very least, we can expect a vastly accelerated timeline for hearings, debate, and votes when the legislature reconvenes to finish its business. We know this issue is important to many of you, so please stay tuned!


The Kansas legislature is still considering two changes to student eligibility under the state’s scholarship tax credit program for low-income students:

  1. Expand student income eligibility to better reflect student need in Kansas. The bill would raise income eligibility requirements from the current free lunch line under the National School Lunch Program (130 percent of federal poverty guidelines) to the free and reduced-price lunch line (185 percent of federal poverty guidelines). For an average Kansas family of three, this change would raise the income-eligibility threshold from $28,200 to $40,200
  1. Allow participating students to come from ANY Kansas public school, not only those enrolled in the lowest-performing 100 elementary schools. Currently, access to scholarships is only available to students who happen to reside in the right enrollment zone. This means that in some cases, students from the same neighborhood have their eligibility determined by which side of the street they live on. If the intent of this program is to serve disadvantaged and at-risk students, those opportunities should be determined solely by need, not by arbitrary enrollment zones or invisible geographic boundaries.

These changes are currently included in several bills, including SB 382, all of which have cleared committee and are awaiting a vote by the full Kansas House of Representatives. We had planned for that vote to happen this week, but the state legislature has decided instead to finish budget work and adjourn until April 27.

We do believe the legislature will address pending business when it returns in April, and that business should include these important changes to the Kansas program.


The Louisiana State Legislature also decided to shut down until March 31. While ACE is not currently supporting any legislation in the state, we do closely monitor potential changes to the Tuition Donation Credit program.

We do not anticipate that this shutdown will impact the ACE program directly because the 2020 legislative session is a “non-fiscal session.” In practice, this means that the legislature is constitutionally prevented from making changes to state law that would impact the state’s fiscal situation—including changes to tax credits and other programs.


Missouri is considering several choice-related bills, but ACE has not been directly involved in those conversations. The Missouri legislature takes a regularly scheduled spring break from March 23 to March 27, but the Senate has adjourned early in light of the pandemic.


Has already adjourned its state legislative session on March 12.

Texas and Montana

Texas and Montana, two other ACE states, do not have legislative sessions in 2020.


Related Articles:

The Battle After Blaine

Courts across the United States have been chewing on various aspects of the constitutional debate surrounding educational choice for decades, and parental freedom has prevailed in the overwhelming majority of those cases. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is primed to use the Espinoza v. MT Dept. of Revenue case to settle the largest and longest-standing legal debate related to K-12 scholarship programs: whether state constitutional Blaine Amendments can be used to deny scholarship families the ability to choose faith-based private schools.

But will that ruling be the end of the conversation? Not if the teachers unions have anything to say about. Today, we’ll take a look at a raft of ballot initiatives in Missouri designed to circumvent the anticipated anti-Blaine ruling in Espinoza.

Blaine Refresher

For those just tuning in, Blaine Amendments are state constitutional provisions forbidding aid to “sectarian” schools and institutions. More than three dozen state constitutions include some type of Blaine Amendment in their constitution. And because most K-12 scholarship programs typically include faith-based education providers, these provisions are very often used by the teachers unions and other opponents of K-12 scholarship programs to launch legal attacks under the guise of maintaining the “separation of church and state.”

In reality, Blaine Amendments have little to do with preserving American ideals. They are discriminatory relics rooted in politically charged anti-immigrant and anti-minority sentiment from the 1800s. Today, they are most often used to deny people and education providers of faith access to otherwise available public benefit programs—including K-12 scholarship programs.

The constitutionality of allowing faith-based schools to participate in public benefit programs is well established under the First Amendment (see here, here, and here). Whether these programs violate the “separation of church and state” articulated by opponents is not in question—they do not. Instead, the opposite question now stands before the U.S. Supreme Court: whether forbidding parents from using K-12 scholarships at faith-based schools violates those parents’ rights to religious freedom under the First Amendment.

Espinoza Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Espinoza case early next year. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 Trinity Lutheran decision, it seems very likely that the justices will use Espinoza as a way to finally settle the Blaine argument once and for all. Indeed, ACE Scholarships joined dozens of other organizations in filing an amicus brief asking the court to do exactly that. 

A ruling that Blaine Amendments can no longer be used to discriminate against parents or schools of faith in K-12 scholarship programs would be the most important education-related ruling since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. It would also settle a debate that has been raging for the better part of two centuries.

Missouri Initiatives

Proponents of parental freedom and choice in education are not the only ones watching Espinoza closely. And they’re not the only ones anticipating a broad ruling against Blaine Amendments as they have been applied thus far.

The national and state teachers unions, who most often launch and bankroll legal attacks against K-12 scholarship programs across the country, understand that Espinoza could be a watershed moment in American education. And they’re taking serious—and seriously sophisticated steps—to make sure that moment does not compromise their ability to maintain a stranglehold on education systems nationwide.

Enter Missouri, where the Missouri NEA, a state affiliate of the goliath National Education Association, has filed six 2020 ballot initiatives (2020-117 through 2020-122 on this list) designed specifically to circumvent the most likely legal rationale for the impending SCOTUS ruling in Espinoza.

Each of these initiatives is slightly different, and it’s not yet clear which, if any, will make it through signature gathering and onto the 2020 ballot. However, all of the initiatives frame themselves around the misleading language of “equitably and adequately” funding public education in Missouri. In reality, that laudable goal is a Trojan horse. The union’s real intent is to forbid the state of Missouri from ever adopting a K-12 scholarship program regardless of any ruling in Espinoza.

To that end, the initiatives seek to do three important things:

  • Sidestep a court ruling forbidding discrimination against people of faith by permanently forbidding any scholarships or other funding from going to any private school, religious or non-religious, in Missouri
  • Ignore prevailing legal logic and regulate tax-credit-incentivized private giving toward K-12 scholarships as public funds, thereby forbidding the state from ever adopting a scholarship tax credit program. These programs, which provide state tax credits for private contributions to nonprofits like ACE Scholarships, are extremely popular with the public on both sides of the aisle and currently serve nearly 300,000 students across 18 states. Courts have nearly universally held that private contributions to such programs, including those incentivized with tax credits, do not constitute public money and therefore cannot be easily challenged in court.
  • Grant standing to sue to parties traditionally found to lack such standing, including any taxpayers, public school student, or school district. In general, lawsuits against scholarship tax credit programs brought by these parties—nearly always at the behest and direction of the unions—are thrown out of court because the parties cannot demonstrate direct harm from private contributions to private nonprofits. In essence, the union is granting itself the eternal and unlimited ability to sue any K-12 scholarship program in Missouri.

What Now?

Any of these initiatives would have the effect of permanently blocking disadvantaged Missouri students from accessing high-quality private schools through a state K-12 scholarship program. If successful, they would also create a roadmap for unions and others who would like to see any SCOTUS ruling against Blaine Amendments undermined in their own states.

ACE Scholarships, which serves approximately 150 students in Kansas City, Missouri, filed a public comment with the Missouri Secretary of State asking that any language circulated in relation to these questions explicitly tell voters that they are designed to cripple educational opportunity, not to ensure “adequate and equitable” public school funding. A number of our Missouri partner schools and several other organizations also submitted comments.

Missouri’s initiative process is complex. If and when the petitions are approved for circulation, the Missouri NEA will have until May to collect signatures from eight percent of the legal voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. If they succeed, the initiatives would move the final phase of hearings before being officially placed on the ballot.

ACE will be watching these initiatives closely as they work their way through the system and participating in that process wherever possible. If you would like to learn more, please contact Ross Izard at



Related Articles:

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Critical Montana Parental Choice Case


Late last year, we covered the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to strike down that state’s scholarship tax credit program in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case. That decision was definitely disappointing, but it was also a blessing in disguise. As we said then, the state court’s first-of-its-kind ruling set up a unique opportunity to bring the critical issue of religious discrimination to the United States Supreme Court.

This morning, SCOTUS seized upon that opportunity when the high court granted a petition to review the case.

The court’s decision to grant the petition signals that it is ready and willing to (finally) tackle the debate about discriminatory Blaine Amendments. These state constitutional clauses have long been used by those who seek to exclude faith-based organizations from various public benefit programs, including private school choice programs like the one in Montana.

How did we get here?

The high court nibbled at the edges of the Blaine issue in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer back in 2017, when it ruled that faith-based organizations cannot be excluded from public benefit programs simply because they are religious. But that ruling left critical questions unresolved about how this landmark principle would apply in private school scholarship programs.

The court had an opportunity to expand upon the Trinity Lutheran ruling in Douglas County School District v. Taxpayers for Public Education, but it instead chose to vacate the Colorado Supreme Court ruling and remand it back for further consideration.

Today, however, the court looks significantly different both in terms of composition and general philosophy. The new court seems ready and willing to consider the issue more fully. And the Montana Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Montana scholarship tax credit program provided them with a chance to do exactly that.

What does this mean for parental choice?

The Espinoza case could result in the most significant ruling on American education since Brown v. Board in 1954. The court is now positioned to settle an argument that has raged for the better part of two centuries.

A ruling that invalidates state constitutional Blaine Amendments as they have been applied to K-12 private school scholarship programs would throw open the doors of educational opportunity for tens or even hundreds of thousands of students across more than three dozen states. It would also end or significantly curtail the practice of weaponized political discrimination against faith-based organizations and reaffirm the religious protections in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

In short, it could be a game-changer.

What happens next?

We are still working to determine exact timelines, but the court could hear oral arguments in the case as early as this fall. A ruling would follow sometime after that.

As the largest K-12 scholarship provider in Montana, ACE has a unique perspective on this case. We voiced that perspective in an amicus brief supporting parents at the Montanan Supreme Court, as well in a separate brief requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court take up the case. We plan to file yet another supportive brief on the merits of the case as the U.S. Supreme Court considers arguments.

Stay tuned for more information as this important case moves closer to resolution.



Related Articles:

Colorado Lawmakers Move to Formalize Penalties for K-12 529 Withdrawals

Our Colorado partner schools and families will remember hearing about HB 1123 by Rep. Colin Larson earlier this year. The bill would have aligned state law and federal law so that Colorado parents utilizing 529 college-savings accounts for K-12 tuition would not be subject to state penalties. Unfortunately, it died in its first committee hearing at the Colorado Capitol.

See below for a quick recap of the current legal situation surrounding 529 accounts.

Issue Recap

In 2017, Congress expanded the acceptable uses of 529 savings to include K-12 tuition expenses at public and private schools. That new flexibility acknowledged the fact that many families need to access their savings to meet educational needs long before their students go to college. For instance, a student might:

  • Need a more rigorous academic environment
  • Want access to a specialized program or field of study
  • Need a school closer to their parents’ home or work
  • Need a safer environment free from bullying or other issues

The main advantage of 529 accounts has always been that they allow money to grow in a tax-advantaged environment. Colorado has taken those advantages a step further by providing state tax deductions and credits for 529 contributions made individuals and corporations, respectively. Those extra state tax advantages are designed to incentivize increased saving for students’ educational futures.

Here’s where it gets complicated. While federal law now recognizes K-12 tuition as an acceptable withdrawal from 529 accounts, Colorado law has not been brought up to date. As a result, state law considers withdrawals for K-12 tuition to be “unqualified”—a designation that can carry all sorts of consequences for who ignore it.

In practice, this misalignment between state and federal law means that parents who try to utilize 529 funds in accordance with federal law could still be subject to hefty state tax penalties. These penalties will most often take the form of “recaptures,” in which the state forces parents to repay any credits or deductions taken for relevant contributions to the account.

SB 257

While Rep. Larson’s HB 1123 was designed to correct the misalignment of Colorado law and federal law on 529 account usage, SB 257 does exactly the opposite. It actually makes this misalignment permanent by writing into state law that parents cannot take advantage of the new federal flexibility.

In practice, the bill says that any parent who attempts to follow federal law and use 529 savings funds for K-12 tuition will face potentially severe state tax penalties for doing so. What a way to close out the 2019 legislative session, right?

If you’d like to get involved on this important issue, please click the button below.

Recent Articles:

Kansas Passes Senate Bill 16

If there’s one thing ACE Scholarships has learned from being involved in tax credit scholarship programs, it’s that enactment is just the beginning. Implementation brings its own set of challenges that will need to be addressed. And sometimes those challenges are tough to predict. That’s exactly the case in Kansas, where a new bill has made a minor technical change with big implications for its scholarship program.

2017 – SB 19

The Kansas scholarship program requires that students meet two eligibility requirements. First, that they qualify for free lunch under the National School Lunch Program by having a family income of 130 percent of federal poverty guidelines or lower. And second, by attending an underperforming public school named on a list created by the state.

Under the old law, the list of eligible public schools was determined using criteria for certain federal funding programs. In 2017, however, the Kansas State Legislature passed SB 19, which included a number of changes to the Kansas program. Among these changes was a change to the list of public schools from which scholarship students must come. Under the bill, this list would now consist of the 100 lowest-performing public schools in the state.

That change didn’t draw much attention until it came into effect in July 2018. At which point, it became clear that the new list excluded a large number of elementary schools. The new, elementary-light list of qualifying public schools posed a significant problem for scholarship organizations. Why? Because students become less likely to transfer as they enter middle and high school. As a result, new scholarship students tend to come primarily from early grades. Thus, excluding elementary schools had the effect of decreasing the number of students who could enter the scholarship program.

2019 – SB 16

Enter SB 16, which changes the list of schools to the 100 lowest-performing elementary schools. This legal change actually began life as part of HB 2395, a K-12 school finance bill. During the process of moving HB 2395, legislators in the House stripped the language related to the scholarship program, along with many other provisions, and added them to a separate bill under consideration: SB 16.

SB 16 went on to pass 63-61 in the House and was subsequently sent to conference committee, where small groups of legislators work to iron out differences between versions of a bill passed by the House and the Senate. The House’s changes were ultimately accepted by both chambers, and the governor signed the bill on April 6, 2019.

What now?

The shift to the new list of low-performing elementary schools takes effect as soon as the bill’s contents are officially published into state law. ACE and other scholarship-granting organizations are waiting for the Kansas Department of Education to publish the list so they can begin recruiting new students.

As with all policy changes, SB 16’s modification to the scholarship program aren’t perfect. Yes, scholarship-granting organizations will now have an easier time recruiting new scholarship students. But the comparatively lower numbers of disadvantaged students in bad middle school or high school environments will now have few places to turn for help—they have effectively missed their chance to receive a scholarship.

ACE hopes to revisit the Kansas program in greater depth at some point in the future so more students can receive the benefits of a high-quality education. For now, though, SB 16 is the law of the land.


Recent Articles:

Louisiana Lawmakers Consider Technical Changes to its Tuition Donation Credit Program

As we’ve said before (see Kansas SB 19), passing a tax credit scholarship program is often just the beginning. To build a successful, sustainable program that serves students as efficiently as possible, charities like ACE have to think carefully about implementation. Sometimes, that process reveals areas that could use a little tweaking to help things run smoothly. That’s exactly the case in Louisiana, where legislators are considering a number of technical changes to the state’s tax credit scholarship program.

Implementation Challenges

In 2017, the Louisiana State Legislature converted the state’s unique tuition donation rebate (TDR) program to a tax credit program like those in 18 other states with Act 377.

Under the TDR program, the state would directly reimburse donors for at least 95 percent of their donation to scholarship-granting organizations like ACE (called school tuition organizations, or STOs, in Louisiana). Act 377 modified this funding mechanism to instead provide donors with a tax credit equal to at least 95 percent of their donation, thereby converting the TDR program into the Tuition Donation Credit (TDC) program. Under both programs, charities can reserve up to 5 percent of donations for the costs of administering scholarships.

While the shift to the more familiar tax credit model was welcome, it became clear during the TDC program’s first year of implementation that certain parts of the old TDR statute did not mesh well with the new TDC program. Additionally, the conversion of the law from rebate to tax credit left a few areas of inconsistency that complicated the program’s rollout.

SB 224 – Technical Changes to the TDC

Throughout implementation, ACE carefully tracked areas of the statute where things could be corrected, streamlined, or simplified. Those purely technical changes eventually found their way into SB 224, sponsored by Senator Gerald Boudreaux. With seven ACE partner schools and dozens of ACE scholars in his senate district, Senator Boudreaux has a strong reason to want the program to work as efficiently as possible.

Here is a list of changes included in SB 224, all of which are technical in nature:

  • Cleans up contradictory language about when credits are earned and aligns statute with current receipt processes at LDE
  • Addresses wording and language inconsistencies throughout the statute
  • Streamlines scholarship payment processes by allowing two up-front semesterly payments instead of quarterly payments
  • Eliminates the requirement to make payments via hard checks mailed to schools and allows other forms of payment, including electronic payment
  • Ensures schools are receiving funds by adding language that allows charities to take action if parents do not approve scholarship payments to schools
  • Modifies filing timelines and related requirements to streamline processes and ease burdens on administering charities and LDE

SB 224 will be heard by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee on Monday, April 22. If it is successful there, it will move to the Senate floor.


Recent Articles: