Sen. Jonathan Dismang snuck a reduced school voucher bill out of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee today, rather than going through the Education Committee, where it would have had a harder road to passage.

This is the same school voucher bill that was defeated in the House but scaled back. He pitched it as a tax credit bill, but acknowledged that it would receive opposition from public schools.

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Taxpayers get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to an organization that will provide school vouchers for any child from a family making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level (the majority of families in Arkansas.) The direct support of private schools comes at the expense of general state services by the loss of those general revenue dollars.

The vouchers would be limited to 80 to 90 percent, depending on student age, of state foundation funding of about $7,000 a year.

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Dismang objected to those who say this legislation is the camel’s nose in the tent, which of course it is. It carries no 25 percent escalator, as the House bill did, but you may be sure an increase will be sought in future years. “This is not the end of the world for public schools in Arkansas, I can assure you of that,” Dismang insisted.

The bill caps the new vouchers at $2 million, where the House bill provided $4 million, enough for perhaps 300 children. A current voucher bill goes only to children with disabilities, plus foster children and, with this session’s work, children of service members.

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Mike Hernandez of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators spoke against the bill, which provides for some measurement by tests of children who receive vouchers, but none of the school accountability rules that apply to public schools. There’s no loss of money should results be poor.

Dale Query of the Arkansas Rural Education Association said public money for private schools is “always an issue with us.” He suggested that if there is to be a voucher program, it should be part of a comprehensive approach to all education, not efforts targeted at population segments.

A Bentonville mother spoke for a voucher bill because of dissatisfaction with public schools. She said private school classes were smaller and better for children and her daughter had done better there.

Education Secretary Johnny Key put the Hutchinson administration behind the bill. He said it was a “reasonable and responsible approach to providing additional support for low-income families” and wouldn’t disturb constitutional requirements for full funding of education.

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Another Hutchinson administration employee, Paul Gehring of the Department of Finance and Administration, said the cost would begin in fiscal 2023, beginning July 1, 2022. He said the bill would require some additional personnel expense in his agency.

The bill passed on a voice vote. There was one audible no vote.