Posted 3/20/2013 04:58 pm
Updated 1 year ago
LITTLE ROCK - A proposal to offer tax breaks for donating to a scholarship fund that would allow low-income Arkansas students to attend private schools failed before a state Senate panel Wednesday, after state education and finance officials raised concerns about the impact the move would have on the budget.
The Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee rejected the tax credit proposal on a voice vote, with three members of the eight member panel appearing to vote for it and two appearing to vote against it. The measure needed at least five votes to advance to the Senate for a vote.
The proposal by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, would offer a 100 percent tax credit to individuals who contribute to a nonprofit that would be set up to award scholarships to low-income students. The nonprofit would award scholarships of up to $4,000 a year to children of families making 250 percent or less of the federal poverty level, and the scholarships would only be available to students in districts with more than 1,000 students.
"It's really to afford the opportunity to low-income students, up to 250 percent of poverty, to be able to apply to go to a private school if they want," English said. She said she planned to bring the proposal back before the committee later.
Twelve other states have similar tax credit programs for private schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The maximum amount of tax credits the state could issue a year under English's bill is $10 million, but the measure would allow that to increase over time. State finance officials warned the panel that there's no room in Gov. Mike Beebe's proposed $4.9 billion budget for such a revenue loss.
English and other supporters of her measure, however, argued that the move could save the state money since the scholarships would be less than the $6,267 Arkansas is required to pay schools per student
The state's top education official also opposed the measure, telling lawmakers it would be a dramatic shift for the state to begin diverting public money to private schools.
"As a department, we have some real concerns about the policy direction this would take the state in taking the state revenues and diverting those revenues into private education," Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said.
A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe said the governor opposes the bill, calling English's proposal "a backdoor method to use public money for private school vouchers."
"You're taking away state tax dollars and using them instead to send kids to private school," Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said.
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