LITTLE ROCK — A bill to create savings accounts that parents could use to send students to nonpublic schools cleared the House Education Committee on Tuesday.
In an 11-5 vote, the House Education Committee approved Senate Bill 746 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning. The bill, which passed in the Senate last week, goes next to the House.
The bill would create a four-year pilot program in which the state would provide a 65 percent tax credit on donations to nonprofit organizations to fund “education savings accounts.”
Families could apply for the accounts and use them for educational expenses such as private-school tuition or costs related to home schooling. The tax credits would be available only in the second, third and fourth years of the program, and total credits would be capped at $3 million per year for each of those three years.
In the first year, priority in awarding the accounts would be given first to low-income students and then to the dependents of people in the military. In later years, students already in the program and their siblings would get top priority.
The House previously rejected a similar bill by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, but SB 746 contains some provisions that were not in the House bill, including one to align the bill with federal anti-discrimination laws and one to require that the accounts be used only for K-12 schools, not for college.
“This puts the parent in the driver’s seat for the child’s education,” Dotson, who is carrying the bill in the House, told the committee.
Several people spoke for and against the bill. Molly Dunaway of Alma, daughter of Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, and the mother of eight children, told the panel she and her husband have faced many expenses in home-schooling their children.
‘This bill would help my students and many others,” she said.
Alice Love of Dumas, a retired teacher, said she was concerned about the effect the program would have on public schools, especially if it were expanded beyond a pilot program.
“As a teacher, I know first-hand how under-resourced my classroom was and how most schools are, especially in meeting the needs of low-income students. This bill would divert more money away from the kids who need it most without any proof that there is any educational benefit,” she said.