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STUDY: School Choice Saving Arkansas Money

Updated: Apr 13

A school choice program created by the Arkansas legislature in 2015 is already saving state taxpayer dollars, according to a recent study from the University of Arkansas. According to the study,  the Succeed Scholarship program saved the state approximately $31,000 in the 2016-2017 school year. The program is the first school voucher program to be established Arkansas.

This law gives parents of children with special needs the ability to send their children to the school that best meets their unique circumstances. The program allows children with special needs to receive a scholarship worth up to $6600 to attend a private school.

From the study:

The net savings to the state per student in the SSP is over $1400 per year. The net gains will be higher than estimated if students who use the program are disproportionately those for whom additional categorical funding is provided under the funding formula, i.e. English language learners, national lunch eligible households, or those requiring alternative learning environments. The fiscal gains will also be larger if the program is utilized by students with disabilities that trigger additional special education funds in the state funding program, although this will be rare as most private schools do not offer intense special education programs. Another factor that would make net gains higher is if some students attend private schools that charge tuition less than the foundation funding amount. The actual fiscal gains may be lower than estimated if students who utilize the program are disproportionately native English speakers, are not eligible for the national lunch program, and do not require alternative learning environments. In general, as long as the additional revenue the state provides to districts (currently $7511) exceeds the foundation funding amount (currently $6646), expansion of this program is likely to generate additional net fiscal gains for the state.

Savings of $31,000 may not sound like much to some, but it’s impressive when you consider this — the scholarship program was used by just 22 students in the inaugural 2016-2017 school year. When you consider that school choice opponents are always insisting that these kinds of programs will actually cost the state money, it becomes even more impressive.

The legislature passed laws in the 2017 session to expand this program in future years.

Act 637 allows superintendents to waive the one-year public school attendance requirement for Succeed Scholarship eligibility.

Act 327 expands the number of private schools which may enroll Succeed Scholarship students.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news for school choice proponents in the 2017 session.

House Bill 1222 would’ve created education savings accounts (ESAs) to subsidize the cost of a K-12 student to attend nonpublic schools or a nonpublic online program. These ESAs would be funded by donations from private businesses and individuals; they would receive a tax credit in exchange for their donation. ESA recipients would receive $6,646, currently the state’s minimum educational foundation funding total, to use on educational expenditures.

This bill failed in the House due to opposition from Democrats and Republicans representing mostly rural districts. This was disappointing because this program could’ve saved the state nearly $3 million in education funding costs in its first year.

In other school choice news, the Missouri Senate today passed ESA legislation for children with disabilities, foster children, and children in the military.

Here’s a video the Show-Me Institute recently produced to show how school choice is benefiting Missouri children:

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