It is with frustration we address you today on behalf of hundreds of Arkansas’s most vulnerable students that have and will benefit from the Arkansas Succeed Scholarship.

In a recent letter to members of the General Assembly, several “civil rights” and “education advocacy” organizations have once again manipulated data and the conclusions of BLR’s Biennial Report on the Succeed Scholarship Program. Unfortunately, in their quest for political gain, these groups seek to exclude foster children, children with disabilities, and children of service members from an education that works for them.

Instead of working to make educational success more inclusive, these groups willingly deploy fear-mongering tactics in our state’s most struggling communities and trade the future of thousands of children for their own raw political ambition.

Attempts to undermine Arkansas parents’ and caregivers’ rights to choose the best educational setting for hundreds of disadvantaged children are disheartening. Further, it is offensive and disingenuous that these groups would intentionally misconstrue the data to create a narrative of racism and income inequality in a strategic effort to discredit the Succeed Scholarship Program.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed Act 1178, which established the Succeed Scholarship Program, without one dissenting vote. The program provides state-funded, outside the public school funding, K-12 scholarships to students with disabilities and students in foster care to use at private schools they choose.

The Reform Alliance (TRA) administers the Succeed Scholarship Program (SSP) in cooperation with the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). As an Arkansas not-for-profit, we are proud to be a part of an effort to improve education in communities around our state. These efforts provide opportunities to close the equity gap by creating new options for our students to receive a high-quality education, uniquely, with all administrative costs being philanthropically funded so that 100% of state funds are spent on student scholarships.

Rather than review the data in the 2020 BLR biennial report objectively to begin asking the right questions for student focused solutions, these organizations chose to take a politically-driven, self-serving approach. They offer one solution to the myriad challenges and inequities facing Arkansas children – “dismantle Succeed Vouchers and reject any other attempt” that would increase equal access for every student to all Arkansas education has to offer.

In a disturbing attempt to mislead legislators, these groups intentionally distort the parent perspective regarding the Succeed Scholarship Program. As an organization that fundamentally believes parents should decide what education option best fits their child, we greatly value parental feedback and guidance. Annually, TRA surveys all parents and families of scholarship students, and consistently, over 99% of respondents say they believe the program should continue. And the numbers are just as positive when the families describe their child’s academic progress, individual attention and ability of SSP schools to meet the needs of their children with disabilities — especially when compared to their experiences prior to participating in the Succeed Scholarship Program.

Some of the most inflammatory political language used by Succeed Scholarship opponents involve the suggestion that this program is somehow created for the children of the elite or that the program is racially biased. To be clear, the application for the program does not ask for either a child’s race or family’s income and is awarded by DESE on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Although we would be happy to answer any specific questions you might have, instead of going point-by-point to correct the misinformation, we would simply like to suggest questions policy makers should ask that will help us close gaps for current and future students to create better, more equitable opportunities for all. Questions such as,

  • Can we find a solution to eliminate barriers so that every qualifying student has equal access to all education options in Arkansas?
  • What obstacles stand in the way of every parent and caregiver having access to the benefits of programs like the Succeed Scholarship for qualifying students?
  • How do coordinated misinformation information efforts impact parents’ and caregivers’ abilities to make the best education decisions for their students, especially in impoverished communities?

The 2020 report also identifies gaps in data collection that should be addressed ahead of the 2022 report. Are there solutions to get a more accurate and complete accounting of demographic data and the actual experience of our students and families enrolled in the Succeed Scholarship Program?

A more complete data set may also assist the organizations in the aforementioned letter in making a more reasoned and informed analysis of the data before presenting overgeneralized and misconstrued information, as well as give elected officials better information to make decisions representing the interests of Arkansas families.

Lastly, we leave you with this statement by a parent who was able to secure the advantage and opportunity of a high-quality education for their child through the Succeed Scholarship Program.

“Without the scholarship, my child would be unable to go to school at all, especially a public school where they would not be equipped to handle her many medical issues. My 12-year-old daughter has chronic autoimmune encephalitis and has very specialized needs. For the first time in her life, my daughter has friends and a social life and is flourishing on grade level. Our family puts all of our extra money into finding medical treatments for her, and we have traveled to six different states looking for it and paying for a lot of it out of pocket in spite of having two forms of medical insurance. Therefore, we could not afford specialized school or any other school if it were not for the scholarship.” – Marcelyn, Conway

As this testimonial and the literally hundreds of others, many posted on our website, from real Arkansas parents demonstrate, the Succeed Scholarship Program is an important complement to Arkansas’s educational environment. It is, unfortunately, adults seeking political power who refuse to depart from the past, fear change and resist new ways of thinking that are the greatest obstacle to creating more equitable education solutions that meet the needs of every child in every community every day.

The Reform Alliance is proud to continue working on behalf of Arkansas children in partnership with the Arkansas General Assembly, DESE, partner organizations and Arkansas families in the same spirit of child-focused bipartisanship that made Act 1178 possible. We look forward to continuing the conversation and welcome anyone with a desire to meaningfully collaborate on improving education outcomes for every student to engage in that conversation and find solutions with us.