JIM HENDREN: The incoming president pro tem's rule changes passed the Senate easily (file photo). Brian Chilson

Private school voucher advocates will try again this year to expand use of public tax money to support private education. The bill was introduced today, with sponsors including the governor’s nephew and Senate president pro tem, Jim Hendren. A fight can be expected.

The legislation is euphemistically called a “scholarship” program. It is a voucher bill. It’s modeled after legislation in other states, with Florida a notable example.


This is how the gimmick works: Taxpayers (including corporations and LLCs, not just individual taxpayers) can get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to a nonprofit that doles out “scholarships” or school vouchers for private school tuition. and other enumerated education costs. The law specifies that the state will have no regulatory control over schools that benefit from the money.

The proposal sets some limits on eligibility, including a family income no more than 1.5 times the cap for participating in the subsidized school lunch program. That means roughly more than $45,000 a year for a two-person household.


The scheme effectively allows taxpayers to designate private school education as a beneficiary of their tax money rather than the entire span of state government. (Could we get the same plan for supporters of Planned Parenthood?)

This legislation will cap the vouchers at $3 million, enough for more than 4,000 students to take the $6,700 each that would go to public school districts and take it for private schools or even in support of homeschoolers in certain circumstances. It would start this tax year, meaning the credits would be available on 2019 taxes.


The state already has a voucher program for students with individual education plans, or special education needs. Joint Budget recently increased the aid for this Succeed voucher program to $3 million. An IEP isn’t required under this new voucher bill, though it is a qualifier. It is for first-time voucher recipients entering grades K-9.

In addition to receiving criticism for generally reducing general state revenues, the voucher proposal can be expected to be opposed by public school districts who’d lose students and who’d still be expected to provide some fill-in education for students receiving the vouchers.

The great fear is mission creep, just as charter schools have proliferated in Arkansas without any particular demonstration of their success as laboratories of innovation. From a small beginning in Florida, the so-called “scholarship” (voucher) program now takes more than $1 billion in public money to private schools. Florida newspapers are full of stories about a failure of accountability, financial problems and more. A lack of regulation can do that.