With only about two weeks left in the state’s legislative session, Arkansas lawmakers stand on the cusp of becoming the 19th state with a tax credit scholarship program. It has been quite a wild ride, so here’s a rundown on where the conversation stands and how we got here.
Earlier in March, Senator Blake Johnson and Representative Ken Bragg introduced SB 539. This bill makes a small change to Arkansas tax law that would incentivize giving to charities that provide K-12 private school scholarships to disadvantaged students. More specifically, the bill would allow individuals and businesses to receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to these charities. The charities, in turn, would have to use at least 90 percent of contributions for student scholarships.
The scholarships provided by SB 539 could be used to help pay private school tuition, purchase support services like tutoring or therapy, or even to defray the costs of educational materials. That kind of scholarship flexibility would be a first among the country’s dozens of existing tax credit scholarship programs.
SB 620 and SB 539
A separate bill promoted by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, SB 620, would have created a small-scale, government-funded voucher program for 500 students in Pulaski County. The program would have been a temporary pilot program that would have automatically ended after five years if not reapproved.
Heading into this week, most in Arkansas thought that SB 620 would be the choice vehicle that moved forward. But in a surprising turn of events on Wednesday morning, SB 620 was pulled from consideration in the Senate Education Committee when it became clear that it did not have the votes to advance. Meanwhile, SB 539 was unexpectedly brought up for consideration by the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, where it passed. The bill then went on to pass the Arkansas Senate and cross over to the House for consideration.
At this point, Governor Hutchinson has expressed support for both bills. However, it looks like SB 539 will be the bill to advance. Now that the bill has cleared the Senate, it will head to a House committee for a vote. If successful in that vote, it will head to the House floor where it will receive a final vote before being sent to Governor Hutchinson for signature.
How to Get Involved
ACE Scholarships is strongly in support of SB 539 and the opportunity it would provide to disadvantaged students in the state. If you feel the same and want to get involved, click the button below. Your voice could make the difference when it comes to getting this critical piece of legislation passed.