Governor officially marks the creation of the Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids Program

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (May 19, 2021) – Today Gov. Asa Hutchinson officially marked the signing of Act 904, which created the Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids Program, with supporters.
 
In April, the Arkansas General Assembly passed legislation for the tax credit scholarship program for K-12 students. Hutchinson signed the bill into law April 26 and met with supporters at the Capitol today.  
 
“We are just so glad to be able to offer this opportunity for students that have a need for a different education option,” said Rep. Ken Bragg, the bill’s primary sponsor. “I appreciate everyone that helped work on this bill to get it passed.”
 
The program will provide funding for private school tuition for approximately 250 K-12 students whose families would normally not be able to afford the option. 
 
“Most people recognize that there is a significant achievement gap between students from higher income families and lower income families,” said The Reform Alliance’s Managing Director Emmy Henley. “This is an essential step to giving students from lower income families equal access to resources that could help bridge the gap.”
 
Arkansas is the 20th state to enact a tax credit scholarship program, and supporters are excited about the opportunity this creates for families with students whose needs are not being met in the traditional public school system.
 
“This program will not mean the end of public education,” said Sen. Jonathan Dismang, the bill’s lead sponsor. “However, it does mark the beginning for 250 families. Experiences matter; situations matter; opportunities matter.” 
 
ABOUT THE REFORM ALLIANCE: The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.
 


Virtual town hall panelists spotlight value of flexible education strategies

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (May 13, 2021) – On Wednesday evening, panelists at The Reform Alliance’s virtual town hall emphasized how educational strategies need to be flexible to meet the needs of different students.
 
Courtney Williams from Compass Academy and Cheri Stevenson from Access Academy explained the Succeed Scholarship is a valuable tool for students with learning disabilities because they can use the scholarship to attend private schools with specialized experience in addressing their needs.
“Our students don’t have to be a round peg to fit into a round hole,” Stevenson said. “We have a lot of flexibility in the ways we can teach.”

Students who have an individualized education plan (IEP), an individual service plan (ISP) or a qualifying medical diagnosis are eligible for the Succeed Scholarship.
 
Children who are currently living in a group foster home are also eligible for the Succeed Scholarship. Rachel Hubbard from Second Chance Youth Ranch said this is a vital option since these children often are at risk of being left behind in traditional school settings due to what they have experienced.
 
“Every child in foster care had endured a lot of trauma: abuse, neglect, molestation, loss of a parent,” Hubbard said. “It is absolutely impossible for a child to carry that kind of weight on their shoulders and leave it at the front door when they walk into the school building.”
 
The Arkansas Department of Education is currently accepting Succeed Scholarship applications for the 2021-2022 school year until May 17. Instructions for applying and the link to the online portal are available on The Reform Alliance’s website.

The panelists also discussed recent education legislation, like the expansion of the Succeed Scholarship program to include students from military families and the creation of Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids, a tax credit scholarship program.
 
“It’s definitely very important that we take into account the importance of equity, access and opportunity when we are working with all students,” Kanesha Barnes from AR Kids Read said. “All students should have equal access to equitable educational outcomes.”
 
ABOUT THE REFORM ALLIANCE: The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.


Virtual town hall will highlight educational options available in Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (May 10, 2021) – The Reform Alliance (TRA) is hosting an education-themed virtual town hall via Facebook live at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 12. 

 
Panelists will talk about the unique educational experiences faced by K-12 students with learning disabilities, in foster care and from military families. They will share experiences with the Succeed Scholarship program and the latest updates on other educational opportunities for Arkansas students, like the recently passed Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids tax credit scholarship program. 
 
Rachel Hubbard from Second Chance Youth Ranch, Jody Bergstrom from Camp Alliance, Courtney Williams from the Compass Academy and Cheri Stevenson from Access Academy will serve on the panel. TRA Managing Director Emmy Henley will moderate the discussion.
 
“Some families are desperately looking for help for students whose needs are not being met in their current learning environments,” Henley said. “We want to make sure these families know about options and have accurate information so they are able to make informed decisions that would improve their education experience.”
 
ABOUT THE REFORM ALLIANCE: The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.


Succeed Scholarship Parent Survey: 98-100 believe the Succeed Scholarship Program should continue to be available.

Annual Parent Survey Data

Succeed Scholarship Parent Survey Results 

2018-2021 Parent Surveys

Parents have POWER! At The Reform Alliance, we recognize this, and we value their opinions. So, we survey all parents who have children participating in the Succeed Scholarship Program annually.

TRA believes that parents are the best decision makers when determining the right educational options for their children, and all children should have the opportunity for a world-class education regardless of zip code or family income. In our existing, one-size-fits-all zip-code-based education model, the financial means of the family, including the ability to live in the “right” zip code, determines the school that a child attends, regardless of what a parent thinks is best.


More than 98% of parents believe the Succeed Scholarship Program should continue to be available.

Because of the important role parents should play in making decisions for their child and the education freedom provided by the Succeed Scholarship, the annual parent survey is an important tool used to measure the success of this program.  In fact, parent satisfaction with the Succeed Scholarship is incredibly high.  In 2021, 100% of parents believed that the SSP should continue to be available to future students.

Academic Progress Satisfaction - SSP -v- Designated Public School

When considering the academic progress of their students, in 2021, 98.5% of parents said they were satisfied with the academic progress of their child in the SSP versus only 18.6% who were satisfied with the academic progress of their child in their designated public school.

Individual Attention - SSP -v- Designated Public School

When considering the individual attention received by their students, in 2021, 98.8% of parents said they were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the individual attention received by their child compared to 23.5% who felt the same about the designated public school.

Addressing Child's Disability  - SSP -v- Designated Public School

When considering how the school addressed their child’s disability, 98.8% of parents were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with how their SSP school addressed their child’s disability compared to only 19.1% who felt like the child’s disability was properly addressed at their designated public school.


Poll from Arkansas State Teachers Association shows support for HB1371

Poll from Arkansas State Teachers Association shows support for HB1371

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (March 12, 2020) – In a recent member poll from the Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA), a nonunion educator association, 56% of teachers indicated they support HB1371, which would create the Arkansas Child Academic Opportunity Scholarship and Grant Act.

“I think it is a great idea for businesses and the state to work together to support the community,” one response said.

About 24% neither agree or disagree with the proposed program, and only 20% oppose it. Many of the disagree comments reflected a misunderstanding of the bill, according to Michele Linch, ASTA’s executive director. For example, one survey response said, “Tax dollars are not for private or charter schools,” when the program is funded by donations made by individuals and organizations in exchange for tax credits, not by tax revenue. Also, tax dollars already go to charter schools because they are public schools; the program does not have an effect on that.

The poll follows a recently released survey from Cyngal that showed that more than more than half of voters in all eight of the identified House of Representatives districts support tax credits for scholarships. In February, the University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy and EdChoice also released a fiscal impact statement showing a positive benefit of $2.3 million for the state, along with a positive fiscal benefit of $773,00 to public schools, from the private scholarship component of the program.

ABOUT THE ARKANSAS STATE TEACHERS ASSOCIATION: The Arkansas State Teachers Association is the state chapter of the Association of American Educators (AAE), the largest national, nonunion, professional educator organization, advancing the profession by offering a modern approach to educator empowerment and advocacy—promoting professionalism, collaboration, and excellence without a partisan agenda. ASTA-AAE is committed to a teaching profession that is student oriented, well respected, and personally fulfilling. Classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, student teachers, university professors, support staff, and supporters can learn more at astapro.org.

ABOUT THE REFORM ALLIANCE: The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.


Researchers declare DFA’s statement about HB1371 is an 'incomplete picture'

Researchers declare DFA’s statement about HB1371 is an ‘incomplete picture’

The statement fails to take into account potential savings

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (March 4, 2020) – On Tuesday researchers from the University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy and EdChoice, a nonpartisan nonprofit, refuted the Department of Finance and Administration’s legislative impact statement about HB1371, which would create the Arkansas Child Academic Opportunity Scholarship and Grant Act, as an “incomplete picture.”

“The DFA fiscal note provides an incomplete picture of the likely fiscal impact of HB1371 because it only includes the cost of the program without regard for potential savings,” said Marty Lueken, director of EdChoice’s Fiscal Research and Education Center. “When students leave public schools via a scholarship program, it reduces educational costs for public school districts and generates savings for taxpayers.”

As written in HB 1371, the program would require all eligible students to be enrolled in public school prior to entering the program. When students leave a school district for any reason, total expenses for that district decreases by the foundation amount ($7,018 per student), plus any categorical or grant funding associated with the student. Because local revenue is fixed, any reduction in district costs resulting from HB 1371 would accrue to the state as savings.

Lueken and Josh B. McGee, associate director of the Office for Education Policy, recently released a fiscal impact statement that takes into account these potential savings. Their analysis estimates that the net fiscal impact of the scholarship program on the state would be $2.3 million in savings, and the net fiscal effect on districts would be a positive benefit of about $770,000.

DFA’s statement projected $465,000 in administrative costs exceeds the costs actually incurred in other states, even though those states don’t have the extra benefit of nonprofits administering the scholarships and grants.

For example, Arizona appropriated up to 3% of ESA amount for admin costs in FY 2012 (the program’s first year), which amounted to $47,280. The state appropriated $200,000 in FY 2013, and $240,000 in FY 2014 and FY 2015 ($200,000 for state DOE and $40,000 for the State Treasury). Mississippi set aside $180,000 for administrative costs and had $99,000 in unused funds in FY 2018 and $33,000 in FY 2020.

“In these states, a state agency is running the program whereas Arkansas’s program would be run by nonprofit orgs and only overseen by a state agency,” said Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice. “Other states are running much larger programs at less than half [DFA’s projected] cost, so it should take Arkansas even less than that to merely provide oversight.”

ABOUT THE OFFICE FOR EDUCATION POLICY: The Office for Education Policy (OEP) is a research center within the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas. The OEP exists to serve as a resource to state lawmakers, educators, administrators, and other leaders, providing them with current national, state, and regional research in education to support them in thoughtful decision-making concerning K-12 education in the State of Arkansas.

ABOUT EDCHOICE: EdChoice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing full and unencumbered educational choice as the best pathway to successful lives and a stronger society. EdChoice believes that families, not bureaucrats, are best equipped to make K-12 schooling decisions for their children. The organization works at the state level to educate diverse audiences, train advocates and engage policymakers on the benefits of high-quality school choice programs. EdChoice is the intellectual legacy of Milton and Rose D. Friedman, who founded the organization in 1996 as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

ABOUT THE REFORM ALLIANCE: The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.

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Fiscal Impact Statement from the University of Arkansas and EdChoice shows tax credit scholarship program would have a positive fiscal impact on public schools

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Feb. 25, 2020) – On Wednesday, researchers from the University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy and EdChoice released a fiscal impact statement regarding HB1371, The Arkansas Child Academic Opportunity Scholarship and Grant Act. The study revealed the proposed tax-credit scholarship program would generate a positive estimated net benefit of $773,000 to Arkansas public school districts.

The study projected that any reduction in funding to districts would more than offset the reduction in variable costs for those students, leaving a positive return for public schools in the amount of $900 per student in the program.

“It’s a common myth that programs like this will negatively impact public school finances,” said Emmy Henley, managing director of The Reform Alliance. “The reality is this innovative, parent-driven program helps alleviate budget concerns at public schools while giving families who have been historically marginalized access to options that better serve their children’s needs.”

The study also estimates that state taxpayers would experience net fiscal savings worth $2.3 million, or $2,600 for each scholarship student.

Last week a poll conducted by Cygnal, an award-winning national public opinion and predictive analytics firm, revealed that 65% of Arkansas voters want parents to be able to customize their child’s education or invest in both traditional and other education options. Additionally, 61% of Arkansas voters support tax-credit funded grants for public schools that serve Arkansas’s lowest income populations.

“Overall, Arkansans want parents to be in charge of their children’s education,” said Jacqueline Boggess, director of insights & communications at Cygnal. “Tax credits for donations to scholarships for low- and middle-income students and donations for grants to public schools that serve low- and middle-income students are both popular statewide.”

The full fiscal impact statement is available here. The full poll is available here.

ABOUT THE OFFICE FOR EDUCATION POLICY: The Office for Education Policy (OEP) is a research center within the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas. The OEP exists to serve as a resource to state lawmakers, educators, administrators, and other leaders, providing them with current national, state, and regional research in education to support them in thoughtful decision-making concerning K-12 education in the State of Arkansas.

ABOUT EDCHOICE: EdChoice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing full and unencumbered educational choice as the best pathway to successful lives and a stronger society. EdChoice believes that families, not bureaucrats, are best equipped to make K-12 schooling decisions for their children. The organization works at the state level to educate diverse audiences, train advocates and engage policymakers on the benefits of high-quality school choice programs. EdChoice is the intellectual legacy of Milton and Rose D. Friedman, who founded the organization in 1996 as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

ABOUT THE REFORM ALLIANCE: The Reform Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring every K-12 student in Arkansas has equal access to a world-class education. The Reform Alliance is proud to manage the Succeed Scholarship at no cost to the State of Arkansas. Even small expenses like the cost of mailing checks to schools are paid for by a private foundation grant. Free educational resources and more information about The Reform Alliance are available at thereformalliance.org.

ABOUT CYGNAL: Cygnal is an award-winning national public opinion and predictive analytics firm that pioneered multi-mode polling, peer-to-peer text collection, and Political Emotive Analysis. Cygnal was recently named the #1 most accurate polling and research firm in the country for 2018 by The New York Times. Its team members have worked in 47 states and countries on more than 1,500 corporate, public affairs and political campaigns.


School Choice Week Essay Competition Winnners

School Choice Week Essay Competition

We received essays from students different learning environments all over the state! We awarded $500 to a winner in each category. Congratulations to all the winners!

Holland Sweeney

Bridge to Hope Academy

I love my school because my school teaches special. My school specializes in dyslexia, which is what I have. Dyslexia makes things hard to remember and it affects my learning. I get distracted very easily, but at my school, I have things like fidget toys, swings, bean bags, and trampolines to help me concentrate better. At my school, we are taught through multisensory, so we say it, hear it, touch it, and make movements to help us learn.

I also love my school because of teachers. They are my favorite! They help me learn in different kinds of ways, like helping me read and decode words. Before I went here, I could not read at all. After being at this school for just eight days, I was able to read. At my school before this, I didn’t know how to read because they weren’t teaching me the right way. This school makes me feel good and safe. I feel more motivated to learn here.

I also love the activities we do here! At 10:00 we get brain breaks to play or eat snacks, and they help me focus on my work. On the first Friday of the month, we get to do Fishing Friday as a reward for good behavior and everybody gets to do it. It really doesn’t matter if your behavior was the best that week, because it motivates everyone to do better in life.

Our school is so great! Other students should come here if they need intervention or a better classroom. When I came in, it felt like I was welcomed in. It takes some adjusting being in a smaller classroom, but I love it. I have great friends, and I enjoy going to school! I don’t dread waking up in the mornings anymore because I am excited to grow at my school! Anyone that comes here would be welcomed into our family!

Nathan Woollen

Barton Junior High

It is January 31, a couple of hours before this essay is due and I am blank. Though I planned to make a large detailed essay, the threat of procrastination and time told me otherwise. So if you’d let me, I want to explain why school choice is important to me. This includes freedom to choose, greater learning potential, and the outward effects.

To begin with, I love freedom and liberty. Everything we do is freedom based. Even the 4th of July Mountain Dew is called ‘Liberty Brew.’ Having the freedom to choose which school I invest my resources and time into feels good. After I switched to virtual thanks to school choice, I now have more time for studying and doing activities I enjoy.

Secondly, I enjoy knowing that I can always switch to a better learning program that fits me. I had been annoyed with the wasted time in class, so switching to virtual gave me more time to do what I wanted. For others, they may prefer a private school where they excel at. Giving people the choice to learn in their own way has been proven to work.

Lastly, I’d like to discuss some other effects. People who homeschool or private school typically score higher and get better grades. Studies also show that homeschooled children do fine in the real world. It doesn’t make sense to remove their right to education, and doing so would be immoral. Allowing private schools also allows competition and leads to improvement to survive in the market.

In conclusion, I am thankful for having school-choice. The benefits from the flexibility and freedom, greater potential, and the many other effects make it an amazing idea. We need to continue to advocate and spread the word for ourselves and our children.

Marybeth Arnold

Southside High School

My community and I appreciate the option of school choice. Many people in my community, including myself, are thankful to know they are able to choose their educational future.

One of the many reasons my community is content with school choice is it can give students an education that best suits them. School choice can be beneficial to those looking for certain elective classes or alternative core classes. Without school choice, some students would not be able to take courses only given at certain schools, preventing them from receiving the best education possible for themselves.

I appreciate school choice because it has lifted a weight off of my shoulders. Both of my parents teach in Fort Smith, which is outside of my hometown. The school district I would be going to without school choice is twenty minutes away from Fort Smith schools, so it would not be convenient for my parents if I ever needed them for something. Because of school choice, I have the privilege of attending the same school district my parents work in. They are closer to me, and it is much more convenient for them.

I am also fortunate to have school choice because I chose to go to a high school that has better opportunities for me than others. The high school I chose to go to has better stagecraft and art programs than most. Because of these opportunities, I have made new friends and found my passion in the arts.

My community and I appreciate school choice, and I cannot imagine how students would feel without the opportunity of it.