House committee advances school choice bill

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 313 views 

The House Education Committee advanced a bill to the full House that would allow tax-credited donations for education savings accounts that would pay for students to attend alternatives to public schools.
Senate Bill 746 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, would provide a 65% tax credit for private and corporate donations to nonprofit organizations. The donations would fund education savings accounts in amounts equal to public school foundation funding (which was $6,646 in 2016-17) for students to attend public, charter, private or home schools. Potentially, the donations would fund 694 accounts.
The donations would go first to students whose family incomes qualify them for free and reduced price lunches, followed by military dependents and then other students. Each public school district’s student losses would be capped at 1% a year. The accounts would be awarded to two new current public students for every new nonpublic school student.
The bill would sunset after four years and would be limited to $3 million in tax credits in each of its second, third and fourth years, meaning about $4.6 million could be donated with the 65% credit, and those are the only years when the money would be available for the accounts. No tax credits or education savings accounts would be awarded the first year.
The bill has already passed the Senate and now heads to the full House.
A similar version, House Bill 1222 sponsored by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, failed in the full House March 16 by a vote of 37-47. Dotson, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 746, expressed confidence that this version would have more support in the House. A number of changes have been made, including broadening anti-discrimination provisions to match federal requirements and ending the ability of students to save money to use for college expenses.
Dotson told committee members that the program will require donors to make $4.6 million in donations in order to receive $3 million in credits, and that the amounts would more than cover the cost of tuition at the average private school in Arkansas.
“This puts the parent in the driver’s seat for the child’s education,” he said.
The vote was 11-5 on a roll call vote, with three of the committee’s Republican members, Reps. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers; DeeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio; and Nelda Speaks, R-Mountain Home, among those voting no.
Della Rosa, who previously had voted for House Bill 1222, told reporters that she changed her mind because she decided, “There’s no such thing as a pilot program.” She said she thought the program eventually would be expanded and that it would hurt public schools, which are the only ones that must accept all students.