by Max Brantley
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that vouchers paid by the treasury were unconstitutional. Florida corporate tax credits (FTC) became the vehicle to fund what initially were private school scholarships for children from disadvantaged families.It's not certain that the Arkansas Constitution explicitly bans an award of tax money to a religious school, many of which will likely benefit if this program is established. But doing it this way sidesteps the question conclusiviely. Note that, in Arkansas, the vouchers are not restricted to poor children. Students already attending private school (that is able to afford them already) will qualify for the state to step in and pay their tuition.
Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Rogers) asked Dotson, "Why do it this way? This seems like we’re putting in a whole middleman that's going to have administrative costs, that is convoluting the system. We're going to have more reporting, [the Department of Finance and Administration] is going to have more to mess with, you've got tax credits. Why don’t we just expand the Succeed Scholarship?"
The Succeed Scholarship is a voucher program enacted in 2015 that uses public tax dollars to pay for students with special needs to attend private schools. The program is capped at 100 vouchers.
Dotson said, "I studied various models all across the country. This is the plan I came up with. I would support that as well. I would love to see that happen."
• FTC private schools are exempt from state teacher certification requirements and curriculum standards. Children are not required to take Florida State Assessments.
• According to a Florida Department of Education report, while ten percent of FTC students gained more than twenty percentile points on a nationally normed test, fourteen percent lost more than twenty percentile points.
• Students who struggle the most academically tend to return to public schools. These students perform less well than other lunch subsidized public school students who never participated in the FTC program. The Department of Education researchers state that the data they were able to collect over represents white, female and higher income children. Thus, the achievement of all FTC students is likely even lower than reported.
• FTC scholarships are not limited to Florida’s poor families. Current income guidelines for a family of four are $48,600 for a full scholarship of $5,886 and $63,180 for a partial scholarship.
• Private schools that accept Florida Tax Credit (FTC) scholarships enroll more Hispanics (38%) than black students (30%).
• Eighty-two percent of FTC students attend religious schools.
• The FTC program does not target struggling public schools. Only twenty-five percent of FTC students are from public schools that had ‘D’ or ‘F’ school grades.