The Succeed Scholarship Program is an important complement to Arkansas’s educational environment.

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.


House Education Committee passes HB1371 to the House of Representatives

House Education Committee passes HB1371 to the House of Representatives
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (March 16, 2020) – On Tuesday, the House Education Committee passed HB1371, which would create a tax credit private school scholarship and public school grant program, and is sending the bill to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
The Reform Alliance (TRA) applauds the legislators for moving the bill forward. If enacted, the bill would provide framework for up to $6 million for public school grants and up to $4 million in private school scholarships for K-12 education.
Recent polling has indicated that the public, including Arkansas teachers, is supportive of the program. In a recent member poll from the Arkansas State Teachers Association, a nonunion association, 56% of teachers supported the program. In addition, a poll from Cyngal showed 66 percent of Arkansas voters agree that Arkansas should start investing in new options or allow parents to customize theirs child’s education.
“This is an exciting step forward for Arkansas families to be able to find education solutions to help students who are struggling,” said TRA’s Managing Director Emmy Henley. “The program gives individuals and organizations the opportunity to support public schools with donations, and it gives families more freedom to find the right learning environment to meet students’ needs.”
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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National School Choice Week spotlighted education options

Last week, The Reform Alliance, a nonprofit focused on improving education in Arkansas, connected with students, schools and parents across the state in celebration of National School Choice Week.

Board Chair Laurie Lee, Communications Director DeAnn Thomas, Managing Director Emmy Henley and Education Policy Advisor Shane Fletcher handed out meals and NSCW swag bags.

The Reform Alliance shared “Miss Virginia,” a film about a single mother’s fight to get her son a quality education, during a Netflix Watch Party on Tuesday, Jan. 26. A drive-in movie showing of the film had to be canceled due to weather conditions, but the nonprofit handed out swag bags and free meals in a drive-through style event at MP Outdoor Cinema in Little Rock on Saturday, Jan. 30. The drive-in movie showing is being rescheduled.

On Thursday, Jan. 28, The Reform Alliance hosted a Virtual Town Hall with education experts Cara Candal, Corey DeAngelis, Sarah McKenzie, Cheri Stevenson and Jherrithan Dukes. The event streamed live on Facebook, and the video has received 1,316 views and reached 2,884 people.

The nonprofit also partnered with the Arkansas State Teachers Association to host an essay competition for students. Holland Sweeney from Bridge to Hope Academy won the $500 prize for education-related expenses for students in grades 4-6. Nathan Woollen from Barton Junior High won the $500 prize for students in grades 7-9. Marybeth Arnold from Southside High School won the $500 prize for students in grades 10-12.

In addition, The Reform Alliance awarded a $500 prize to Taraji Kiyumbi from the House of Opportunity microschool and a $500 prize to teachers at Compass Academy for participating in the #SchoolChoiceWeek Dance Challenge.

During the week, staff members also brought National School Choice Week swag bags to students at eStem Junior High, eStem Elementary, Lisa Elementary, The Grace School, Prism Education Center, Compass Academy, Friendship Aspire Academy in Pine Bluff, Hannah School and Arkansas Christian Academy.

“We loved shining a spotlight on the education options available for K-12 students in Arkansas,” Managing Director Emmy Henley said. “We encourage everyone to continue to work together to ensure that every student has equal access to a quality education.”



Arkansas Child Academic Opportunity Scholarship and Grant Act FAQ

The Child Academic Opportunity Scholarship and Grant Act creates new opportunities for Arkansas to harness the power of private philanthropy to improve educational opportunities for low-income and at-risk students.

The act creates a new dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit program for individuals and businesses that contribute toward either flexible private-school scholarship accounts or grants for public schools serving predominantly low-income populations of students.

Public School Frequently Asked Questions

If enacted, taxpayers could begin contributing toward Academic Opportunity grants in January 2022.

In its first year, the program allows for up to $10 million in state income tax credits. Of this total amount, $6 million is reserved for public-school grants and $4 million is reserved for private-school scholarship accounts.

Both these credit caps are subject to their own “escalator clauses.” If 90 percent of either cap is fundraised in a given fiscal year, the cap will automatically grow by 25 percent in the following fiscal year. For example, if $5.4 million is raised against the $6 million public-school cap, that cap would automatically grow to $7.5 million in the following fiscal year.

There is no maximum grant size. As with many other grant programs, grant-makers—designated student support organizations (SSOs), in this case—have the flexibility to determine grant sizes and terms based on specific needs.

Public schools can use grants for a wide variety of educational expenses, including:

  • Technology enhancements like wireless access points, computers, or tablets
  • Building upgrades for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, or roof repairs
  • Remote learning intervention platform technology
  • Social and emotional well-being programming for students and parents
  • Professional development for staff working with diverse populations
  • Sensory rooms and equipment for special education services
  • Funding for economically disadvantaged public school student populations

Private School Frequently Asked Questions

If enacted, taxpayers could begin contributing toward the Opportunity Scholarship Program in January 2022.

In its first year, the program allows for up to $10 million in state income tax credits. Of this total amount, $6 million is reserved for public-school grants and $4 million is reserved for private-school scholarship accounts.

Both these credit caps are subject to their own “escalator clauses.” If 90 percent of either cap is fundraised in a given fiscal year, the cap will automatically grow by 25 percent in the following fiscal year. For example, if $3.6 million is raised against the $4 million private-school cap, that cap would automatically grow to $5 million in the following fiscal year.

Scholarships are capped at 100 percent of the per-student foundation funding amount determined annually by the state. In 2020-2021, this amount is approximately $7,000. This amount would be made available to families in equal quarterly increments throughout the school year.

Families can use scholarship accounts for a wide variety of educational expenses, including:

  • Tuition and fees at an approved private school
  • Courses in local public schools
  • Educational course materials like textbooks
  • Tutoring services
  • Testing fees for college-placement exams, industry certifications, or other assessments
  • Fees for academically focused after-school or summer educational programs
  • Tuition, fees, or materials at institutions at in-state or out-of-state institutions of higher education if students are dual-enrolled in high school and a postsecondary school


Back to School Parent Survey - Fall 2020

This survey closes on Wednesday, August 5th at 6pm cst.


2020 Graduations and Resources


Teachers Support School Choice, too!

Page three of “Education Matters,” a publication of the Association of American Educators Foundation, highlights the staggering results of their survey that shows teachers strongly support school choice for students.