PRIVATE SCHOOL CHOICE ON THE AGENDA
“The most callused aspect of the current education monopoly in Arkansas 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.”
Murphy Commission, Policy Foundation project, 1998
(May 2014) Three states bordering Arkansas have approved student private school choice programs, while legislators in a fourth are eyeing the reform.
Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma have enacted tax credit, scholarship or voucher programs since 2008. Tennessee is debating the idea, which allows students, including those with special needs, to transfer to private schools.
Arkansas, by contrast, does not allow private school choice though more than 19,000 students are enrolled in independent schools.1 Public school choice exists in Arkansas on a limited basis, restricting students to public schools.
States In The Region With Private School Choice
Eight states in the 12-state Southeast region have private school choice programs. The states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia are states in the region without private school choice.
States Adjacent To Arkansas
Louisiana policymakers approved private school choice in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Oklahoma (2010, 2011) and Mississippi (2012, 2013) later followed suit.
Louisiana's Individual tax deduction and scholarship program "allows individual tax deductions for educational expenses, including private school tuition and fees, uniforms, textbooks, curricular materials, and any supplies required by the school." Credits include "tuition and fees at University run 'lab schools,'" according to the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a research source on education reform.
There were 106,549 taxpayers participating in 2012, with an average annual tax deduction value of $$,060, the Friedman Foundation notes.
Louisiana's tuition donation rebate program allows taxpayers to "receive tax rebates for donations" to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships.
Oklahoma's Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program provides tax credits for donations to nonprofits that "spend a portion of their expenditures" on "private school scholarships for low-income students" in amounts "equal to or greater than the percentage of low-income students in the state." Lindsey Nicole Henry scholarships make any Oklahoma public school student with special needs eligible to receive a private school voucher.
Mississippi allows dyslexic children to receive vouchers if their current public schools cannot provide reading disorder programs, the Foundation explains. There were 71 students participating statewide in the program in 2013.
Private School Choice Debated In Tennessee
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed private school choice in his 2013 State of the State address.2 The Tennessee Senate passed a measure earlier this year that would have allowed poor students in failing public school districts to use vouchers to attend private schools. It stalled in the Tennessee House last month. Private school choice proponents say the issue will reemerge in 2015.
Private school choice is on the agenda in most states in the region, though not yet in Arkansas. Choice programs include scholarships for special needs students, and Louisiana and Oklahoma provide tax credits for private schools.
1 "Arkansas School Choice Market Expands" (Policy Foundation research memo) February 2014
2 http://www.tn.gov/governor/legislation/scholarships.shtml. Haslam's proposal would provide eligible students "with the opportunity to receive a scholarship to attend the private school of their choice." Only "students whose family income status makes them eligible for free or reduced lunch" and who "are zoned to a school among the bottom five percent in terms of student achievement" would qualify. Private schools, in order to accept scholarship students, must be approved through a recognized accreditation process, agree to accept the scholarship as payment in full, and require scholarship students to take either the state's achievement test or a nationally norm-referenced test capable of producing value-added results."