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SB 292: Is California Ready for School Choice?

SB 292: Is California Ready for School Choice?

You can add Arkansas to the list of states that have enacted universal school choice legislation this year. In just three months, Republican governors in Iowa and Utah, and now newly-elected Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have signed laws creating statewide Education Savings Account (ESA) programs that empower parents to use state education dollars to send their child to the best school for them.

That makes 11 states that now have ESA programs, EdChoice reports, and 28 states are considering ESA legislation, including lawmakers in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, and Oklahoma.

Next up … California!

California Policy Center (CPC) is proud to announce that we are sponsoring the new ESA bill introduced by state Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). Senate Bill 292 — the California Education Savings Account Act of 2024 — would create an ESA for every California student and allow parents to choose what accredited K-12 school best suits their child’s needs. The student’s share of Proposition 98 education funding follows them to that school.

SB 292’s companion bill, Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, would amend the state constitution to make California law consistent with the two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings striking down laws that prevented money from following the child to a school of their choice.

“The California Education Savings Account Act puts parents in charge of their children’s education,” said Lance Christensen, CPC’s Vice President of Education Policy and Government Affairs.

“We can’t sit by while another generation of students have their lives derailed by an unaccountable state education system,” Christensen said. “Every California student, regardless of family income and zip code, deserves a high-quality education that will prepare them for success in the 21st century.”

If enacted, an education savings account will be available for lower income California students during the first two years after SB 292 becomes law. Over the next two years, more children will be eligible for the ESA program with all income limitations gone by 2028. This will allow a system of schools to grow up with the increased demand.

Bonus: Any unused ESA funds can be saved from year-to-year to pay for college or vocational training upon graduation from high school.

In this way, the ESA provides a pathway to higher education by helping students save for college and avoid costly student loan debt, allowing the average student to save from $24,000 to $48,000. That is enough to attend a California State University (CSU) campus with little or no student loan debt.

“California public schools are failing our kids and too many high school graduates are not ready for the workforce or college,” said Christensen. “California is supposed to be a leader in innovation and opportunity. It’s time for us to make that a reality for our K-12 students too.”

Despite spending around $23,000 per year for each child in public school, California consistently ranks at the bottom of national standards in academic achievement among 4th, 8th and 11th graders. California is 50th in the nation in literacy, and only 11 percent of Black students and 15 percent of Latino students in 11th grade meet state math standards.

College graduation rates are significant indicators of future earning power, notes Grove’s SB 292 Fact Sheet, leaving many Black and Latino students at a long-term disadvantage in earning power and upward economic mobility. In addition, Black and Latino students face higher debt burdens to attend college. Of those college students who borrow money, 90% of Black students and 75% of Latino students took on debt compared to 66% of white students.

“I’m pleased that Senator Grove is taking this measure to her colleagues to advance the cause of education freedom for every California student,” Christensen said. “From attending a better school to saving for college, it will help restore the California dream for the next generation.”

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