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California legislators reject up to $16,000 tuition voucher program

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(The Center Square) – California legislators rejected a bill that would have created an up to $16,000 annual, universal voucher program for parents to use on tuition at private schools for K-12.

SB 1203, introduced by State Sen. Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, would have redirected $8,000 per year in Prop. 98 education funding to parent-controlled accounts for use on tuition, with unused money returned back to the state’s general fund. The bill would provide $16,000 per year in Prop. 98 for special needs children.

“Despite spending $1,000 more per student than the national average, California has consistently ranked below the nation in academic achievement among 4th and 8th graders for several years now,” Grove said to the Senate Education Committee. “Studies have shown that black and brown students at charter schools have accelerated and outperform their peers in traditional schools.”

Notably, charter schools, which are tuition-free schools open to the public, tend to receive 33% less funding than traditional public schools receive, while performing as well as private schools and better than public schools.

The California Teachers Association, which represents teachers at traditional public schools, opposed the bill on constitutional grounds, claiming public funding cannot be used to fund private, religious schools, and said the bill would increase education spending by $4 to $6 billion due to the cost of paying for tuition for existing private school students.

“This bill will allow Prop 98 funding intended for public education to be used for private school vouchers, including religious schools,” said Katie Hardeman on behalf of the CTA at the committee. “The LAO estimated a similar initiative would cost about $4 to $6 billion to fund existing private school students. This would come from existing Prop. 98 resources or the general fund.”

California currently faces a $73 billion budget deficit for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, for which Newsom has proposed spending $23,519 per pupil in K-16.

Lance Christensen, vice president at the California Policy Center, which sponsored the bill, responded to the CTA by citing recent Supreme Court rulings and a desire to bring the issue to voters.

“The Supreme Court has talked about this twice and said there is no issue there for public money to go to religious places if there are no other opportunities. The Blaine Amendment [Hardeman] is referring to has proven to be unconstitutional,” Christensen said in committee. “Yes, it would have to go back to voters, but let’s give the voters a choice.”

The bill failed, with only State Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, R-Yucaipa, voting for the measure.