UPDATE: Big voucher bill back to committee for conversion to 'pilot program' | Arkansas Blog

Monday, March 13, 2017

UPDATE: Big voucher bill back to committee for conversion to 'pilot program'

Posted By on Mon, Mar 13, 2017 at 5:45 PM

click to enlarge VOUCHER PROPONENT: Rep. Jim Dotson is taking his bill back to committee for changes.
  • VOUCHER PROPONENT: Rep. Jim Dotson is taking his bill back to committee for changes.
The House calendar includes two bills to send public tax money to private schools, without regard for the qualifications of those schools, but there's a major development on the biggest one.

HB 1222,  the so-called education savings account bill, sets up a money laundering process that will allow rich taxpayers to divert taxes owed into a fund to pay for private school vouchers. It would start at $6.5 million a year and reach $11 million a year in five years. Programs in other states have tended to favor higher income families. The bill comes without accountability for school or student performance and the money laundering process cleans the money from any taint of sending tax money to a church school.

UPDATE: Rep. Jim Dotson sent his bill back to committee today for "tweaks" he said the governor's office had requested before the bill is debated. The governor has questioned the financial impact. I haven't reached Dotson, but the change will apparently scale the program back dramatically. Said a statement from the governor's office:

“I’m pleased Rep. Dotson was willing to change the scope of his legislation into a pilot program. This will not only limit the financial exposure to the state, but it will provide an opportunity to study the program while monitoring any unnecessary impact to the budget.

The change came after reports that the bill would not receive a vote today because of resistance in the House. Small school administrators have waged a fierce battle against it as damaging to them and sending money to unproven places.

I hope the changes are about more than money. There should be a way to limit corporate tax deductions to shift tax paying from government to private schools. There should be a transparent means of determining,by test scores, whether students have benefitted. There should be accountability on the part of the schools. They should be subject to same standards as public schools..

UPDATE: Dotson told the Democrat-Gazette he'd cap the program at $3 million for each of four years, with a sunset provision to end the program if it isn't viewed as successful. Trust me: Those who want public money to go to private schools will find whatever happens successful. And the rich will disproportionately benefit. And accountability of the schools will be scant. Watch closely to see if the amended bill provides a clear means of determining the efficacy of each school and the beneficiaries.

Ideally, the bill would simply be beaten. No tax dollars should go to private schools, particularly church schools. But that gate has already opened. Read on.

Also on the agenda is HB 1567 to let foster children, regardless of education status, get money to go to a private school. This an expansion of the so-called Success Scholarship, that was supposed to help a limited number of students with disabilities sufficient to qualify for an independent education plan to get money to go to a private school. A foster child wouldn't need an IEP to get the money. It's been said repeatedly that this program is limited to 100 students a year, but that's only an informal agreement, not a stipulation of law. The state Education Department has $800,000 for the program, good for more than 100 students. This expansion is said to be limited to 20 children living in group homes. UPDATE: It passed easily, 82-3. Sponsor Rep. Kim Hammer said it would provide a good "test" of the Success scholarship.

A law passed earlier this session allowed recipients to take the money to unaccredited private schools. Another pending bill would remove a requirement that a student currently be in public school to get the money to transfer to a private school. This allows students already paying for private school to get the subsidy.

In short, a good bit more than the camel's nose is into the public tent sniffing for money to ship to private schools — good, bad and indifferent for whatever reason.

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