ARKANSAS' FIRST

PRIVATE SCHOOL CHOICE PROGRAM

 

"The most callused aspect of the (Arkansas) education monopoly is that it willingly and deliberately forces children--except those whose parents have wealth--to attend bad schools. And it does so with financial resources taken from parents already struggling financially and at the expense of their ability to choose a better school for their sons and daughters. Policy Foundation report,1998

 

(March 2015) The Policy Foundation, since its founding 20 years ago, has advanced the idea that private school choice would benefit at-risk Arkansas students by introducing competition to the state's K-12 public school system.

 

House Bill 1552, which passed the state Senate on March 31 and is headed to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk represents the advance of that idea. "Eight states in the 12-state Southeast region have private school choice," we noted last year, "while Arkansas, by contrast, does not allow private school choice though more than 19,000 students are enrolled in independent schools." No longer, as Arkansas becomes the 25th state with private school choice, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

 

The state legislature ignored the idea for decades.1 But it gained momentum this year with three proposals: HB 1552 (Rep. Doug House, R-North Little Rock); HB 1593 (Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville) to add private schools as a choice option; and HB 1745 (Rep. Jim Sorvillo, R-Little Rock) to create an "individual income tax credit opportunity scholarship program" for students with disabilities. HB 1552 creates the Succeed Scholarship Program, and provides "a scholarship to a private school of choice for students with disabilities that have an individualized education program in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq." The maximum scholarship amount is more than $6,500, the foundation funding amount for the current school year. This session's victory is a reminder that ideas matter, though real change can take decades.

 

--Greg Kaza



1 State Rep. Randy Alexander's 2013 proposal would have created "a scholarship program" giving "all Arkansas children the option to attend the public or private elementary or secondary school of their parents' choice" was referred for interim study.