Education Enterprise Zone Act Exposed

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The Education Enterprise Zone Act was adopted by ALEC's Education Task Force and is included in ALEC's 1995 Sourcebook of American State Legislation. ALEC has attempted to distance itself from this piece of legislation after the launch of in 2011, but it has done nothing to get it repealed in the states where it previously pushed for it to be made into law.

CMD's Bill Summary

This "model" legislation creates so-called "educational enterprise zones" to subsidize private schools. Students eligible for free lunch programs could attend any schools within the zone. If the student attends a private school, the state would issue a voucher of equal value to the average amount of per-pupil funding allocated to that school system. This is effectively the creation of a voucher program for low income students.

In Wisconsin, school vouchers were introduced in the early 1990s in Milwaukee. In 2011, Governor Walker proposed lifting income eligibility caps and expanding the program across the state, allowing for the privatization of primary and secondary education across the state. This tactic creates a program rationalized based on an emergency or special circumstance and then normalizes it. In Wisconsin, Walker's allies have asserted that 94% of school voucher students graduated from high school in four years, but that reflects only the rate for students who remained in the program for four years: in reality only 318 of the 801 students who began the program stayed with it, according to state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts. Much of the data in support of the Milwaukee voucher program is from a study by the "School Choice Demonstration Project" (SCDP), which has been criticized by the National Education Policy Center in a report by Clive Belfield. He notes that the SCDP "study" was not peer-reviewed and cites no sources other than those associated with the SCDP (failing regular standards for credible studies). He notes that the SCDP report does not really address student achievement except to assert that voucher programs are "not harmful," even though other scientific analysis shows that voucher student scores lag behind the scores of students in public schools, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. As noted in the June 8, 2011, Cap Times article, "Voucher schools to expand amid questions about their performance," by Susan Troller, these facts support State Superintendent Tony Evers' position that the state should not be expanding taxpayer subsidies for programs that have not proven to be particularly effective while cutting public education.

ALEC Bill Text


This legislation creates and provides for parental choice of schools within an educational enterprise zone (EEZ). All public and private schools within a designated zone. Any elementary or secondary student who is eligible for participation in a free lunch program may attend any school within the zone, provided the school has space and the student meets admission requirements.

The legislation further provides that if the student attends a private school, the state shall issue to the parent a voucher valued in an amount equal to the average amount of per pupil funding allocated to that school system, or the full amount of the private school's tuition and fees, whichever is less.

Model Legislation

Section 1. {Educational enterprise zones}

(A) An educational enterprise zone is created in each public school system as defined in this Act. An education enterprise zone is defined as all public schools and private schools that have been approved by the [state board of elementary and secondary education] as provided in Section 5.

(B) Within an educational enterprise zone, any regular education student in grades one through twelve who is eligible to participate in the free lunch program (pursuant to 42 USC 1758(b)), may, if a parent or guardian so chooses, attend any other public or approved private school of appropriate grade level within the [state/district system], provided space is available and the student meets any applicable admission requirements.

Section 2. {Definitions.}

(A) "Parent" means the natural or adoptive parent or legal guardian of a dependent child.

(B) "Participating school" means a public or private school located in the state that enters into an agreement with the district school board in accordance with the provisions of Section 5.

(C) "Private school" means a school that is not maintained with public funds, that charges tuition or fees for the services it provides, and that is in compliance with the laws of the state.

(D) "Public school" means a school that is administered by a state or local public agency.

(E) "School" means a school that is authorized to provide elementary and/or secondary education under state law.

(F) "Eligible private school" means:

(1) a private school that has been operating for at least two years and meets certification standards pursuant to Section 5; or
(2) a private school operating for less than two years that meets certification standards pursuant to Section 5 and obtains a letter of credit or bond for one-third of the total amount of funds to be received through acceptance of certificates provided for in this Act. The letter of credit or bond shall, in the event of nonperformance, be payable to the district school board.

Section 3. {Creation}

(A) Each public school in the state shall become a participating school. The responsible officials for each eligible private school shall decide whether that school shall become a participating school.

(B) Subject to the provisions of Section 4, a participating school shall admit children with certificates who apply, up to the limit of the school's capacity, after reserving places for children admitted in accordance with the school's regular admissions practices.

Section 4. {Student transfers}

(A) A participating school shall establish criteria for the admission of children with certificates that are consistent with the admissions criteria that it regularly applies.

(B) In the case of a participating public school, the [district school board] [state board of education] shall establish criteria for the equitable allocation of places for children with certificates if there are insufficient places to serve all such children requesting such places.

Section 5. {Qualifications.}

(A) Participating schools shall:

(1) provide a curriculum which includes five core subjects: English, mathematics, science, history, and geography;
(2) meet minimum health and safety standards with which private school must currently comply;
(3) disclose teacher credentials to parents.

(B) The [district school board] [state board of education] may require each public school and each certificateredeeming school to choose to administer tests reflecting national standards for the purpose of measuring individual academic improvement. Such tests shall be scored by independent parties. Each school's composite results for each grade level shall be released to the public. Individual results shall be released only to the school and the child's parents.

Section 6. {Funding}

(A) Whenever any student attends a private school within an educational enterprise zone under the provisions of this Section, upon certification by the school of the students' enrollment, the [state/local board of education] shall send to the parent or guardian of the student a voucher valued at the [average amount of per student educational foundation funds] that is allocated to the attending school within the same zone, or the full amount of the private school regular tuition and fees, whichever is less. The voucher may be redeemed by any participating private school.

(B) The allocation of minimum foundation funds to the designated school system shall be reduced by any amount paid pursuant to Paragraph (1) of this Section for students transferring to private schools in their zone.

Section 7. {Rules}

(A) The [state board of elementary and secondary education] shall develop, adopt, and promulgate all rules necessary to the implementation of this Section.

(B) The program provided in this Section shall be operated as a pilot within [insert district] for three years beginning in the fall of [insert year]. The [state board of elementary and secondary education] shall prescribe the size of the pilot and the maximum number of schools and students who may participate. The pilot shall be conducted in a manner to fairly test the feasibility and value of the program contained in this Section. The [board] shall report on the results of the pilot to the legislature prior to the beginning of the [year] regular session of the legislature. Statewide commencement of the program shall begin with the [year] school year.

Section 8. {Regulations}

Private schools shall be accorded maximum flexibility to educate their students and shall be free from unnecessary, burdensome, or onerous regulation. No regulation of private schools, certificate-redeeming or not, beyond that required by this legislation and which applied to private schools on [insert date] shall be issued or enacted, unless approved by three-fourths vote of the legislature or, alternatively, as to any regulation pertaining to health, safety, or land use imposed by any county, city, district, or subdivision of the state, a majority vote of qualified electors within the affected jurisdiction. In any legal proceeding challenging such a regulation as inconsistent with this Section, the governmental body issuing or enacting it shall have the burden of establishing that the regulation:

(A) is essential to assure the health, safety, or education of students;

(B) does not unduly burden private schools or the parents of students therein; and

(C) will not harass, impede, injure, or suppress private schools.

Section 9. {Severability clause.}

Section 10. {Repealer clause.}

Section 11. {Effective date.}