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School choice voucher bill fails in Arkansas House

by Rachel Herzog | March 17, 2021 at 6:51 p.m.
State Rep. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, is shown in this undated file photo.

A proposal to fund private school tuition for qualifying students with up to $4 million in state income tax dollars failed in the Arkansas House with bipartisan opposition on Wednesday, after barely making it out of committee the day before.

House Bill 1371 by Rep. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, failed on a 44-52 vote, with two lawmakers voting present, after nearly an hour and 45 minutes of debate.

The bill would have created a scholarship fund capped at $4 million to allow certain low income students, foster children, students with disabilities and students from military families to attend private school, creating 571 scholarships worth about $7,000 each.

It would have also created a pot of grant funding of up to $6 million for public schools with high populations of low-income students, a provision that won the bill the support of the committee that rejected a version of the school choice legislation during the 2019 legislative session. Another school choice voucher bill failed in 2017.

"If in any way I thought this bill was going to damage the public school system, I really wouldn't be running it," Bragg said. "Some people can't exercise that choice because of their income status."

Supporters of the bill said it would create a way for students who fall through the cracks to find an education plan that works for them while creating another way to meet the needs of public schools, while opponents said it would chip away at public schools and expressed concerns about the means by which participating private schools would be held accountable.

"It's a move that will resegregate students from public schools to private schools," Rep. David Tollett, R-Lexa, said. "It will create two separate but unequal systems of accountability."

Read Thursday's Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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