LITTLE ROCK — A bill to create “education savings accounts” that families could use to send students to nonpublic schools passed Tuesday in the Senate.
Senators voted 22-5 to approve Senate Bill 746 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning. The bill goes to the House, where a similar bill by Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, has stalled.
Johnson’s bill would create a four-year pilot program allowing the establishment of savings accounts that parents could use for certain expenses related to a child’s education.
Under the measure, people and companies could donate to nonprofit organizations and, starting in the program’s second year, a 65 percent tax credit on the donations would be provided by the state, with the money going to fund the accounts. The total tax credits provided in the second, third and fourth years of the program could not exceed $3 million per year.
Each year, an account would be worth an amount equal to the state’s per-student spending on public education, which for this school year is $6,646. Families could apply for the accounts regardless of whether they make donations.
Johnson said the bill would create choice for students for whom public schools are not a good fit.
“Not every child fits in the same box,” he said.
Speaking against the bill, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, warned that lawmakers have been passing education bills in the name of choice without an overarching plan. Similar haphazard approaches in the past have led to schools that were predominantly black or white, she said.
Elliott also said she was concerned about continually diverting resources away from the state’s public school system.
“We just keep watering down what little we have,” she said.
Speaking in support of the bill, Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, drew a comparison with the private sector.
“In business, competition makes you better,” he said.