School voucher bill in House committee today | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, March 9, 2017

School voucher bill in House committee today

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 9:06 AM

click to enlarge CAMPAIGNING: The Citizens First Congress frames the issue this way.
  • CAMPAIGNING: The Citizens First Congress frames the issue this way.

HB 1222, a sweeping school voucher bill, is on the top of the agenda for the House Education Committee today.

It grants a tax credit (65 percent) to people who deposit money into a special fund that would be used to provide money to send children to private schools. No preference on eligibility is granted on account of income. No requirements are set on the schools that receive the money. Similar plans in other states have been boondoggles. In Louisiana, money has gone heavily to poor church schools where children have done worse, not better, than they did in public schools.

It's a giveaway of tax money without transparency, accountability or oversight. It goes before a committee on which the Walton charter/voucher lobby has lavished attention and support, so ....

It will receive opposition from democratically overseen and highly state-regulated real public schools.

The committee meets at 10 a.m. The bill allows $6.5 million to go into the voucher fund in the first year, the 2018-19 fiscal year. Rep. Jim Dotson of Bentonville is the sponsor. It's a cookie-cutter version of legislation being pushed nationally to continue to erode public school districts. Here's an NEA brief on the subject. The Walton-financed propaganda arm at the University of Arkansas is, of course, already on record about how this is a money-saver for Arkansas public schools. As if, even if the argument withstands scrutiny, cost is the only measure of education

Says the Citizens First Congress:

HB1222 subsidizes private schools that don't have to meet any of the state's standards around accountability, transparency or quality. Your tax dollars will be used to pay for schools that may discriminate against students because of their religion, race, gender or ability level.

Please contact your State Representatives and ask them to VOTE NO on HB1222.

Tell them that there are better ways to improve opportunities for our students. Arkansas should focus on proven reforms including expanded pre-kindergarten, summer and afterschool programs, expanding support for children in poverty, and improving teacher quality.

Tell your Representative that you want your tax dollars invested in proven ways to boost student performance, and that EVERY school that receives public tax dollars should be held to the same standards of quality, transparency and accountability!
Not that the backers of this bill mind, but remember that under other law whizzing through the legislature (including some already on the books) the church schools could refuse on moral grounds to serve a transgender or gay student (or hire a competent gay teacher) and still rake in taxpayer money.

Note: This is a devious shell game under the feel-good name school savings account. Here's the deal: Say a very rich heir to a discount store fortune wanted to participate (and a taxpayer with consolidated income tax report such as a corporation also may play). They could be first in line in the first year to write a $6.5 million to check to one of the 501c3 organizations set up to grant tax credits and distribute money to private school students. It would get 65 percent of that money back from the state of Arkansas in the form of a direct tax credit. But the full $6.5 million also could be taken as a charitable deduction on federal income taxes as a gift to a 501c3. Voila: You've transferred $6.5 million of your money — not to the state of Arkansas or the U.S. government which otherwise would get it — but to a private schools.

As I've said before, I'd like some programs to direct my  tax bills to recipients of my choice, too.

UPDATE: In committee, advocates try to say this isn't a voucher program because, through the laundering process set out in the bill, the money comes from private contributors not the government. This is baldly dishonest. That money is extracted from tax receipts otherwise payable to the government.

Good question from a Republican Rep. Jana Della Rosa. Why not just a straight voucher program? Why all the news rules and middlemen? Dotson didn't have a good answer except the obvious: The structure make it look like something it's not — a voucher plan — and also it removes state oversight, accountability and transparency. Also this is designed to get around giving public money to religious institutions.

Dotson claimed his bill was revenue neutral. More baloney. It's lost tax money for every dollar of credit granted.

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