LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A group of state Republicans filed a $10 million tax credit proposal, which they say would make it easier for parents to send their kids to private school.
The bill, the Arkansas Parental Empowerment for Education Choice Act, proposes giving tax credits to individuals and corporations that contribute to nonprofit education savings accounts.
State Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, is sponsoring the proposal and said the funds from the accounts would go to eligible families to pay for not only private school tuition, but also books, transportation and more. Therefore, he said, it’s more than a voucher program, which focuses solely on private school tuition.
The funds from the education savings accounts would also rollover to the next school year, which Rep. Dotson said would encourage parents to be more frugal. He said if there’s money left when a student graduates, he or she can put it toward college or technical school.
“It’s not the state giving money to private schools,” said State Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs. “It’s about giving parents the freedom to send their children where they think is most appropriate for them to go to school. It’s about children having a choice and parents having a choice.”
However, some aren’t buying that.
“Let’s call it what it is. It’s a giveaway,” said Jim Ross, a history professor at UALR. “Words really matter. Tax credit means we are taking tax funds away from public schools.”
Ross worries the proposal would limit opportunities for the majority of Arkansas children.
“When you see these voucher programs around the country, they [private schools] don’t have to take everybody that public schools do,” he said. “They can reject ESL children, they can reject kids with physical or mental handicaps.”
Sen. Hester argues the act will give students more of a choice, while saving money.
“When a parent chooses to pay for a child at a private school, it saves the state money because it’s not having to spend the $7,000 to a public school,” he said.
But Ross believes Arkansans shouldn’t put a price tag on students.
“If this is about saving money, go for it,” he said. “But if this is about helping the most vulnerable, if it’s about doing what’s right and helping all kids, then this is a dumb plan.”
Rep. Dotson expects the bill to go before the house education committee in the next couple weeks.
To read it in full, visit the state legislature’s website.