Here’s HB 31, filed yesterday, to dramatically expand school vouchers in Arkansas.
As I wrote earlier, it’s a blow to real public schools, but with a little financial sweetener built in to diminish past opposition from public school leaders. It counts 29 House sponsors and 11 in the Senate.
A few key points:
Vouchers will be provided to any child from a family with income less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level — $52,400 for a family of four, which is above the median family income in Arkansas of $48,000. It is also open to others regardless of income, including children with individual education plans, certain military families and children in foster care.
The bill provides up to $10 million in spending from a proposed dollar-for-dollar income tax credit, with $4 million for contributions to nonprofits that will hand out the vouchers and $6 million for a grant program for high-poverty public school districts. At $7,000 in state aid per voucher, this would provide almost 600 vouchers to private schools, doubling the existing voucher program for foster children and children with individual education plans.
Then there’s this alarming wrinkle: The bill says that if the demand for vouchers exceeds 90 percent of the tax credit cap, the cap will automatically rise by 25 percent the following year and so on. If demand continues to be high, the money will grow exponentially without cap.
Remember a couple of things: Though proponents argue this merely shifts state school spending, rather than reducing support for education, they are being disingenuous. Every student lost to a private school costs a public school money in lost revenue. And be aware public schools may be required to provide services to private school students that they might not be able to get at their private school of choice.
The bill naturally provides that the state may not regulate the private schools.
The state may not, in other words, abuse private schools as it has abused the Little Rock School District. It can’t name their principals, dictate names of schools, dictate superintendent choices, bar lawsuits, limit personnel policies or otherwise interfere with independent operation. While it does require testing of private school students, it includes no provision to take control of schools with poor scores.
It’s a 29-page bill meant primarily to help private schools and buy off public school opposition. There are undoubtedly other rabbit holes to dive down.
Don’t be confused by the name “Opportunity Scholarship.” It’s a voucher bill. And it will have a damaging impact on state government as a whole. It allows taxpayers to direct the entirety of their income tax bill to a single use — private school vouchers and the grant program — rather than putting it in the general revenue pot that funds all state services. Currently, less than half of tax dollars wind up in public schools.
I can think of many public purposes I’d like to designate as the sole beneficiary of my tax dollars. But my name isn’t Walton.
PS: A reminder that even Walton acolytes are on record about the lack of evidence that vouchers are a great thing educationally. But they say do it anyway.
The sales pitch is that all parents should get school money and take it where they want. The final cost is the end of America’s great egalitarian school system, an end to accountability in education and further segregation of schools by class and race.