BROOKLAND, AR (KAIT) - The debate continues over House Bill 1222 as several Region 8 educators and parents voiced their concerns to District 53 State Representative Dan Sullivan Thursday night in the Brookland High School auditorium.
Sullivan, a co-sponsor of the bill, spent the first 30 minutes of the meeting reviewing the bill's criteria and how he feels it would positively affect public school districts.
However, when he opened the floor for discussion, the question and answer portion of the meeting got heated as those in attendance felt Sullivan did not clearly explain how beneficial the bill would be to public schools.
One of the concerns included the $10 million that will come out of the general fund which is money that would normally be spent on the public school system.
Parents and school officials feel that money would fund private schools using public taxes. On the other hand, Sullivan said that would not be the case because he feels it would all be a "revenue neutral" circumstance if the bill is passed.
Sarah Scott, an Arkansas State University instructor and a parent of a public school student, said she doesn't agree.
"This will, in fact, take money from the public school," said Scott. "Why would we take that money away that would help our public education? He keeps saying it is going to be revenue neutral but from where I'm sitting, there is no guarantee of that and it is going to help more and more people who are already in the private school system get a tax break to do so."
Scott, as well as several other educators, also feel that this bill would legalize segregation since the bill is a lottery-driven opportunity for families wanting what they feel is a quality education for their children.
Those in the public school system feel those students who win the lottery would be in private schools while public schools lose funds as attendance goes down.
Scott said with that concept, it would leave only lower income families in the public school system because they would not be able to afford the remaining cost of getting into a private school since the lottery would only pay a portion of that entry fee.
"It is going to leave out the most vulnerable of our population," said Scott. "Those that are marginalized, minorities, those with special needs and disability services are not going to get the resources that they need. What this bill is really going to do is keep the students who can already afford a private school and give them a break to incentivize them to go into the private school system."
Another concern discussed during Thursday night's meeting was the enticement of school choice.
Public school officials and parents are upset that a public tax will be used to fund more competition between public and private schools.
When students leave a public school to attend a private school, that public school could lose thousands of dollars per student, however, Sullivan said that even if that is the case, that is something public schools are already facing so it wouldn't make a difference.
He added that this created competition would be a great thing for school districts in the long run.
"When a student leaves one school and goes to another, the school they left is trying to figure out what do we need to do to be competitive within the market," said Sullivan. "Therefore they are adding courses and events to attract students to their school. The point behind this entire bill is to incentivize competition. When the level of education goes up, students will benefit."
Because educators feel the bill is flawed, they want the entire proposal to be thrown out, but Sullivan said he's remaining open to the bill and encourages his people to reach out to his office for a better understanding and discussion.
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