LITTLE ROCK — A Senate bill to create savings accounts that families could use to send students to nonpublic schools was rejected Friday by the House, which previously voted down a similar House bill.
Senate Bill 746 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, received 43 votes in support and 50 against. The bill passed 22-5 in the Senate last week.
Presenting the bill in the House was Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, who sponsored House Bill 1222, another bill on the same topic that failed in the House in a 37-47 vote in mid-March.
SB 746 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, which would be worth about $6,700 a year, and use them for educational expenses such as private-school tuition or costs related to home schooling. The families would decide how the money would be spent, but the nonprofits would do the actual spending.
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.
Johnson’s bill contains some provisions aimed at addressing concerns people raised about Dotson’s bill, including language to align the bill with federal anti-discrimination laws and a requirement that the accounts be used only for K-12 schools, not for college.
Dotson told House members the bill would provide more options to families without harming public education. He noted that some opponents have said they are concerned the program would be expanded after four years.
“The only way it will expand is if this pilot program is successful,” he said. “So what the organizations against this are telling you is that they know it will be successful, and they don’t want that because they don’t want school choice.”
Organizations opposed to the bill include the Arkansas Education Association, the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators and the Arkansas School Boards Association.
Speaking against the bill on the House floor, Rep. Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, said the measure assumes that families have choices besides sending their children to failing public schools.
“In most of this state that choice doesn’t exist in terms of private schools,” she said.
Dotson said after the House adjourned he did not plan to seek another vote on the bill Monday, the day the session is scheduled to wrap up, but he said he will continue to push for a tax credit-funded program on school choice in the future.
“I’m optimistic about the future,” he said. “It’s a disappointing day, but oftentimes these things don’t pass the first time around.”