“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 (Murphy Commission) 1998


(February 2015) The Policy Foundation has maintained an interest in education reform ideas since its founding in Little Rock 20 years ago.


The Foundation published the first Arkansas study calling for charter schools in 1996.1  Critics attacked the idea, but 22 conversion charters and 18 open-enrollment charters operate in Arkansas in the 2014-2015 school year, state Department of Education records2 show.


The Foundation published three 1998 studies on Arkansas’ K-12 public education system.  They advanced ideas that were later adopted: charter school expansion, and district and school report cards.  Foundation amicus briefs3 in the Lake View school finance case explained the need for a uniform accounting system.  An administrative restructuring proposal explained that schools could preserve their identities and mascots without the contentious urban-rural conflict that later ensued.


The Foundation published a study4 in 1999 that called attention to serious academic and fiscal problems in the Little Rock School District.  Critics attacked the study but its ideas remain highly relevant.  The state Board of Education took over the L.R.S.D. on January 28 following last year’s identification of six area schools as being in academic distress.


Foundation Proposes School Choice at Failing Little Rock Schools


The Policy Foundation proposes that students enrolled at Little Rock schools in academic distress have the option to benefit from independent school choice programs.  These schools are Baseline Elementary, Cloverdale Middle School, Henderson Middle School, J.A. Fair High School, Hall High School, and McClellan High School.


The following eight states5 in the region have independent school choice programs for students:


(Alabama) Parent-Taxpayer Refundable Tax Credits (2013), and Tax Credits for Contributions to Scholarship-Granting Organizations (2013)


(Florida) John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities (1999); Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (2001); and Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program (2014)


(Georgia) Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program (2007), and Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit (2008)


(Louisiana) Elementary and Secondary School Tuition Deduction (2008)Louisiana Scholarship Program (2008)School Choice for Certain Students with Exceptionalities (2010)and Tuition Donation Rebate Program (2012)


(Mississippi) Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for Students with Dyslexia (2012), and Nate Rogers Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program (2013)


(North Carolina) Special Education Scholarship Grants, Children with Disabilities (2013), and Opportunity Scholarships (2013)


(South Carolina) Educational Credit for Exceptional Needs Children (2013)


(Virginia) Education Improvements Scholarships Tax Credits Program (2012)


Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia are the only states in the region without independent school choice programs for students.  Arkansas should not be the last state to consider the reform.

1  Allyson Tucker and Donna Watson. Arkansas’ Weak Charter School Law: Failing The Grade.

2  Arkansas Department of Education: http://www.arkansased.org/contact-us/charter-schools

3  Attorney Cathleen V. Compton filed the briefs on behalf of the Policy Foundation.

4 A Performance Analysis of the Little Rock School District: Ten years of rising revenues and declining student academic achievement.  The study is posted on the Policy Foundation’s homepage at: www.arkansaspolicyfoundation.org

5  Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice: http://www.edchoice.org/School-Choice/School-Choice-Programs