The House Education Committee today approved SB 746 to put $3 million a year into a program to give public money to send children to private schools, essentially a voucher program.
The pilot program would allow almost 700 students a year to take more than $6,600 a year to private schools and also receive benefits of a lesser amount for home schools.
The bill failed in an earlier run in the House, but was revived with some changes in the Senate, which approved the bill.
The money will go first to students of lower income, as based on qualification for free or reduced price lunch, but if such students don't claim all the money it can go to others. Proponents emphasized that the bill capped the number who could receive it at 1 percent of the enrollment of any school district, but that could mean more than 200 students in the Little Rock School District.
Opponents cited the loss of state money and also the inability of students in many rural areas to find a private school to use, save some segregation academies.
Major school organizations still oppose the bill, though it's described as a four-year pilot project. It's described as an education savings account bill, but this is an artifice to structure the flow of money in such a way as to avoid questions about sending public tax money to church schools. Taxpayers get a tax credit and tax deductions for money put into nonprofit organizations that will take applications for and distribute money to children to pay for private education. The setup effectively allows a taxpayer to direct tax money solely to private school education, as opposed to the range of services normally financed by tax payments. The taxpayer effectively gets all that contribution to private education back in the form of the credit (two-thirds of the amount from the state) and the reduction in taxable income from the remainder of the contribution.
Corporations may participate. In theory, a single major corporation could underwrite the entire $3 million program.