Exploring Arkansas’s Private Education Sector
By Drew Catt
Exploring Arkansas’s Private Education Sector is the sixth installment in our School Survey Series. This report details the results of our survey of Arkansas private schools and U.S. Department of Education data, including schools’ awareness of the state’s new voucher program. You’ll also learn whether private schools are willing to participate in educational choice programs, what reservations they have about such programs, the number of available private school seats, Arkansas private school tuition costs and more.
ADDITIONAL REPORT INFORMATION
In this report, you will learn:
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).
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.
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.
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.