A school voucher expansion stymied in the House will get another run in the Senate, with some modifications from the measure defeated in House committee.
SB 630, introduced today by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, is a straight-up voucher bill. It has some changes likely aimed at mollifying public school opponents. I wouldn’t bet against anything with special interest backing, especially as wealthy as the interests behind this legislation.
It’s simple. Taxpayers would get a direct income tax credit for every dollar given to a nonprofit (in Arkansas one already in existence is run by a Walton Family Foundation creation) that would give “scholarships” — or private school vouchers — to children whose families make less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That’s $53,000 for a family of four, above the median family income in Arkansas of $48,952. All students are eligible, where the existing voucher program was established only for children with individual learning plans, or disabilities, and state foster children.
The bill allows the contributors to designate every dollar of income tax owed for donations to private schools, rather than to public schools and other state services, as state income tax dollars normally are allotted
The vouchers would provide 80 percent of state foundation funding for elementary and 90 percent for high school students — $5,600 to $6,300 per year at current funding levels. The defeated bill allowed payment up to full foundation funding of around $7,000.
Accountability remains minimal. Private schools must administer a national test to students. There is no failing score and students with independent education plans are exempt from the tests. A report will be required on test performance of voucher recipients, but no consequences for poor results.
A key difference from the bill defeated earlier in House committee: No provision is made for income tax contributions to a fund for grants to public schools. That sop attracted few supporters.
The cap is $2 million in tax credits in the first year, half the $4 million cap in the defeated House bill. It’s still enough for 300 to 400 vouchers a year and, of course, The original bill allowed a 25 percent annual inflation, which this bill doesn’t seem to include. The cap is, however, easily adjustable by the legislature once the voucher camel gets in the legislative tent.