University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

HB1208 and HB1222: More channels for Arkansas students

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on January 25, 2017 at 11:52 am


Two bills introduced in the Arkansas state legislature have gotten us thinking about TV, cable, and Netflix.

The first bill, (HB1208), would allow districts to adopt a policy allowing private school or homeschool students to enroll in academic courses at a the public school, and provides funding to the district for each student that does so.

The second bill, The Arkansas Parental Empowerment for Education Choice Act of 2017 (HB1222), would create Education Savings Accounts that parents could use to support non-public schooling options such a private school tuition or curriculum materials for homeschoolers. 

More details about the bills are provided below, but essentially, one bill provides support for public schools that offer part-time academic enrollment to students who are not currently attending public school, and the other provides financial support parents that want a non-public option. The bills move our students closer to learning what they need, when they need, where they need.

And that’s why we were thinking about TV….

When we were growing up there were a few channels on the TV and they were the same for everyone.  Along came the VHS (and the doomed Betamax) and you could rent movies to watch at home and even set up your VCR to record something off of the TV. Then came cable, and (for a price) you could get cool shows on Showtime and HBO.  Soon you could record your shows on devices like TiVo, and pause and fast forward through commercials (which we LOVE)!  Some people got frustrated with the ‘cable packages’ (where you have to pay for lots of channels you will never watch in order to get the one or two you want) and have left cable for on-demand streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.  The students in our classrooms now likely ONLY stream their content.  These services allow subscribers to watch what they want, when they want, where they want.

There are parallels to learning: In the past there were mainly public schools and private schools.  Additional options have increased in Arkansas and across the country- including virtual, charter, and homeschool options. Now we are getting options to mix and match- public schools are getting the opportunity to allow these students to enroll for a specific class or two and parents who are choosing the non-public options are getting an opportunity to get some financial support for their student’s education.

We look forward to seeing how these bills progress through the session.  We think students benefit from both these bills and don’t see a significant downside.  Famillies and students expect to be able to make choices that best match thier needs. Educational options should provide students opportunities to do the same.

HB1208 would allow districts to adopt a policy allowing private school or homeschool students to enroll in academic courses at a the public school, and provides funding to the district for each student that does so.

What it is: Students who are not attending public school may, if the local public school district agrees, enroll in an academic class at the local public school. Homeschool students are already allowed to participate in interscholastic activities such as sports, fine arts, or clubs.

Districts are not required to allow homeschool or private school students to enroll.  If the district did allow enrollment, the state would pay the district an amount equal to 1/6th of foundation funding for each course in which a homeschool or private school student enrolls. Given that foundation funding for 2016-17 is $6,646, that works out to about $1,100 per class/student annually. Districts can limit the enrollment to certain grade levels or courses, to a certain number of students, and/or set specific admissions criteria.  We like the idea of homeschool students having access to Project Lead the Way courses, AP classes, or any class taught by an outstanding public school teacher.

Who is eligible:   Any district may choose to adopt such policies and any homeschool or private school student may enroll if the local district allows.  There is no enrollment cap included in the legisaltion. In 2015-16, 19,229 students were homeschooled, a population equivalent to about 4% of the public school population.  Homeschool rates (as a percentage of the public school population) ranges from 0% to over 15%.

The Arkansas Parental Empowerment for Education Choice Act of 2017 (HB1222)

What it is: In lieu of attending a public school, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) allow families to allocate funding to non-public schooling options of their choice. The amount equivalent to the foundation funding amount ($6,646 for 2016-17) will be placed in an ESA and the funds can be used to:

  • pay tuition at a private school,
  • purchase curriculum or instructional materials for homeschool studies, 
  • purchase tutoring services, 
  • pay fees for AP examinations, college placement examinations, Industry certification examinations,  
  • pay tuition for after-school or summer programs focused on academic instruction,
  • make contributions to a college savings account,
  • pay tuition or fees at an institution of higher education,
  • pay for specialized services for eligible students (such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, audiology), and/ or
  • pay transportation costs for travel to educational services.

Who is eligible:  The proposed program would allow any child eligible to enroll in a K-12 public school in the state to qualify for the ESA.   Five states that currently have ESA programs:  Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee, have limitations about the types of students who are eligible. Students must be identified with special needs to be eligible in Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  Students in Arizona and Nevada must have previously attended a public school to be eligible.  Arkansas is the first state to propose a fully-universal ESA.

Given maximum funding, approximately 2,000 students could receive an ESA for the 2017-18 school year. This is 0.4% of current public school enrollment.  In the first year, if the number of students applying for an ESA exceeds the funding available, accounts will be offered through a weighted lottery that ensures students receiving Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL) are proportionally represented. Statewide, 61% of public school students currently receive FRL so the lottery would be weighted to ensure that 61% of the accounts were allocated to FRL students. If fewer than 61% of applications are from FRL-eligible students, 100% of the FRL students will be selected for an account.

In subsequent years, if the number of students applying for an ESA exceeds the funding available, current users and their siblings are prioritized for ESAs.

Initial analysis of fiscal impacts of the bill indicate it will likely be cost neutral for the state.

  1. YES! I support Bill HB1222 but it should be open to anyone who is currently electing a ‘different’ option to educate their children. We took our kids out of public school because they were both being bullied and the school did nothing to stop it! Their ‘zero tolerance’ policy is a joke because they use a very weak hand to hold students and parent accountable to the policy. We are not paying almost $10,000 per year to send our child to private school while my tax dollars are going to ‘fund’ the public school system that I feel is inefficient and broken. I don’t agree, however, about the split for kids already utilizing the FRL – they are already using additional tax dollars vs. many other kids – why should they get preferential access to these new tax dollars? The proper/fair way to allocate the dollars would be to take the Total Funds / # of applicants = fair amount per applicant.

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