Arkansas private schools need to know more about state’s new special needs voucher
Once informed, schools are eager to be part of educational choice program
INDIANAPOLIS — Arkansas private schools have limited knowledge about a new voucher program launching there this fall, according to a new report released today by EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
Exploring Arkansas’s Private Education Sector, which synthesizes responses from more than 150 private schools in Arkansas as well as data from the U.S. Department of Education, found that just one in four private schools is aware of the newly established Succeed Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities. Nearly half of the responding schools said they were not at all or not too familiar with the concept of school vouchers generally.
Once informed, however, two-thirds of private schools said they would be interested in participating in a voucher program generally, and nearly two-fifths said they would be interested in the Arkansas program, which is capped at 100 students in its first year but has the potential to expand. Click here to read the report.
“There’s definitely work to do to make sure Arkansas private schools know they can be part of this new program designed to help special needs students find the schooling option that works best for them,” said EdChoice President and CEO Robert Enlow. “The great news is that we now know these schools have seats available and are eager to open their doors to a voucher program under the right conditions.”
The EdChoice survey found that Arkansas private schools have enough empty seats to increase current private school enrollment (19,756 students) by approximately 47 percent. Total enrollment capacity could be reasonably estimated to exceed 29,200 seats, including those currently filled by students.
Additionally, the survey found that most Arkansas private schools charge tuition that is far less than the state pays to fund public school students. In 2013-2014, Arkansas spent roughly $9,600 to educate each public school student. By comparison, Arksansas private schools charge an average of roughly $4,500 in tuition and fees, and fewer than 10 percent of schools charge more than $10,000 per year.
“Expanding this program would not only give more Arkansas students access to educational choice, but it could wind up saving taxpayers money because a private school education can be less expensive than a traditional public school experience,” Enlow said.
The survey found that while private schools are interested in school choice programs such as vouchers and education savings accounts (ESAs), they are leery of over-regulation and prescribed testing, though 87 percent of them voluntarily administer a nationally norm-referenced test to measure student performance.
Enlow said he hopes the Arkansas voucher program can successfully connect schools and families in the coming school year so that students there can have the kind of choices widely available in other states.
“Arkansas is just getting started when it comes to educational choice, and we’re excited to see what the future holds,” Enlow said.
ARKANSAS PRIVATE SCHOOL SURVEY KEY FINDINGS
1. Most Arkansas private schools don’t know about the state’s voucher program that’s launching this fall.
Only about one in four private schools indicated they were already familiar with Arkansas’s school voucher program, the Succeed Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities program. Nearly half of Arkansas private schools said they were “not at all familiar” with the state’s voucher program, meaning they may not have heard of the program prior to the survey. About half of respondent private schools said they were “not too familiar” or “not at all familiar” with the concept of school vouchers in general. A staggering 75 percent of respondent Arkansas private schools said they are “not too familiar” or “not at all familiar” with the concept of education savings accounts (ESAs).
2. Arkansas private schools will participate in educational choice programs, and they have open seats.
When it comes to such programs, 51 percent of respondent Arkansas private schools are generally familiar with vouchers, and 67 percent said they would or probably would participate in a voucher program. Thirty-seven percent said they would or probably would participate in the state’s Succeed Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities voucher program. One in four respondent private schools had heard of ESA policies, and 48 percent said they would or probably would participate in an ESA program. And Arkansas’s private schools have enough empty seats to increase current private school enrollment (19,756 students) by approximately 47 percent. Thus, total enrollment capacity could be reasonably estimated to exceed 29,200 seats, including those currently filled by students.
3. Overregulating Arkansas’s educational choice programs will deter private schools from participating.
The majority of respondent Arkansas private schools said they are concerned with certain types of regulations when considering participation in an educational choice program. Sixty-six percent of respondent schools reported high or very high concern with rules and regulations relating to setting of curriculum and instruction; 53 percent with rules and regulations relating to testing and accountability; 51 percent with rules and regulations relating to paperwork and reporting. Notably, the vast majority of respondent schools (87 percent) already require their students to take a nationally norm-referenced test to measure academic performance.
4. Arkansas private schools are affordable for parents, and choice programs will save the state money.
More than one quarter of respondent schools charge combined tuition and fees rates less than $3,500 for students in pre-kindergarten through middle school. Half of private schools for which combined tuition and fee data are available charge $4,170 or less for elementary and $4,575 or less for middle school and high school grades. Comparatively, Arkansas public schools spent $9,616 per student in 2013–14. Only 7 percent of respondent schools charge $10,000 or more for high school. It’s important to note that half of respondent Arkansas private schools provide an average of $1,550 or less in tuition assistance per student, and half of respondent schools already provide tuition assistance to up to 20 percent of their students.
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.