Proposed bill could move money out of public to private schools, opponents say

Proposed bill could move money out of public to private schools, opponents say
(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A proposed bill could change the type of education your child is getting.

Educators are paying close attention to House Bill 1222, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville.

The bill would allow for the transfer of money out of the state general revenue fund and into the private school system, opponents said Monday.

"It's a new time in the state of Arkansas," Wilbanks said. "We're at a pivotal juncture. It is the first bill that we are looking at that is basically a voucher bill. And this voucher bill actually comes in the form of a tax credit. So, it will allow up to $10 million in tax credits that an individual can use in a private school setting. What is unique about the bill is it allows both corporate and individual contributions to the bill."

Superintendents and school board members gathered together on Monday afternoon at the Nettleton School District Administrative office to hear attorney Donn Mixon define pivotal points in the bill and potential issues.

Jonesboro Public School System Superintendent Dr. Kim Wilbanks said, if passed, the bill could affect a number of different institutions that rely on state funding.

"A lot of the times when you look at this bill initially," Wilbanks said. "You think why are school districts, why are superintendents concerned about this bill because it doesn't immediately look like it takes public dollars and use it for private school. But in reality, it takes up to $10 million dollars away from general revenue funds. And in the state of Arkansas, general revenue funds do fund public education. But they also fund highways, health-care and higher education. And so, it's just the first look at are we a state that wants to delve into public dollars going for private education."

Nettleton Superintendent Jim Dunivan said he's concerned the $10 million is just the start.

"We've all talked about how much we are concerned," Dunivan said. "About this being step one of a multiple step issue that will develop. You start with a voucher program and it grows and it grows. And written into this current bill, it's implied that this will get larger each year. So, you say it might not take much money this year, but in two years when they have the next session and it's amended and changed and they grow it. Before long more and more money is being taken out of public education. And you can not continue to survive and provide the quality of experiences we all try to provide on less and less money."

"You know, we're not a wealthy state," Wilbanks said. "We're not necessarily a state that has enough income that we can support both public and private schools. And I think what's interesting in our community is I'm very proud of our community for their support of public schools. Private schools are at an all-time low in enrollment in this area. And I believe that is because they believe in their public schools. And in our area, I know choice is very important to our parents and I appreciate that our children do have a choice. And we see that they choose to leave Jonesboro School District and attend the Nettleton School District or the Valley View School District. But at the same time, they have the same choice to leave these school districts and attend ours. And we've worked really hard to make that work for our students. So, I just really believe we currently have a system that's working well."

Wilbanks said another issue is what's not in the bill.

"The other concern with this bill is the limited amount of accountability," Wilbanks said. "When these dollars follow a student to a private school or in this particular case it's just a 501c3 non-profit organization. There's very little accountability as to the caliber of organization that can receive that funding. Or their accountability once they receive the money. Our concern is about a quality education for every student," Wilbanks said. "And we want to ensure that happens. Whether it's in one of our public schools or in a private school or where ever that happens."

"This is only the beginning," Dunivan said. "If this, or a bill like it, passes it's just the beginning of public money providing private education. We just don't feel like it's right to pay for private school costs with public money."

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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