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Private school tuition measure sent to governor

by Rachel Herzog | April 21, 2021 at 6:22 p.m.
A classroom is shown in this 2015 file photo.

The Arkansas House on Wednesday voted narrowly to send a bill establishing a $2 million state income tax credit program that would fund private school scholarships to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Senate Bill 680 by Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, passed in the House on a 52-40 vote, with two lawmakers voting present.

The legislation would provide scholarships for about 250 students whose family income is 200% or less than the federal poverty level.

Programs that use public funds to fund private school tuition have been contentious in the state Legislature the last few sessions. A bill that would have provided up to $4 million in state income tax credits to charities that fund private school scholarships for certain qualifying students failed by seven votes about a month ago, marking the third time a voucher program has failed in a majority-GOP General Assembly.

While Democrats have traditionally opposed such programs, they have also garnered opposition from GOP legislators.

House sponsor Rep. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, said public schools serve most students well, but some need resources their families can't afford.

“There’s always exceptions where a child might need a different educational experience," Bragg said.

Other lawmakers expressed concerns about accountability for private schools and taking funding away from public ones.

"This bill represents the last aspect of public education that has not been sold out to private interests," Rep. David Tollet, R-Lexa, said.

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