Among the many advocacy groups that turned out today at the Capitol were supporters of increased “school choice” measures, including several hundred students from charter schools around the state.
The rally today was organized in part by The Reform Alliance, a nonprofit formed last year that promotes “choice” measures. It is the designated nonprofit that oversees the “Succeed Scholarship,” a relatively small-scale voucher program for special education students. Speakers included Lieutenant Governor Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.
But “choice,” as the term is used in education policy today, can mean several different things. Advocates of charter schools may not always support measures such as HB 1222, a recently introduced piece of legislation that would divert money away from state revenue (and therefore public schools) and toward private or parochial schools. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville) and other Republicans, would create a massive school voucher program in Arkansas at the expense of traditional public education.
Griffin, at least, made it clear that he supports HB 1222. “The lovers of Mr. Status Quo … are going to do everything they can to kill it,” he warned the crowd today. It’s worth noting that as of Wednesday, at least, Governor Hutchinson has not yet taken a position on the bill. Griffin, though, is a vocal advocate for measures that would undermine the existing school system in favor of charters and private schools.
Kathy Smith, the senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation, was in attendance at the rally, and I asked her if the WFF would be supporting Dotson’s bill.
Smith told me that HB 1222 was not the foundation’s bill, and she would not voice clear opposition or support for the measure on behalf of the Walton Family Foundation. “Certainly, as you know, we are advocates of school choice, but we also want to make sure there’s fiscal accountability [and] responsibility,” she told me. “[There are] some questions about what that tax credit would do in light of a $50 million tax cut.”