Arkansas public education coalition again revises proposed ballot measure targeting voucher rules

(MA Riusz/Adobe)

An Arkansas coalition attempting to amend the state Constitution’s education clause submitted its fourth proposal to the attorney general Thursday.

The goal of the Arkansas Educational Rights Amendment of 2024 is to require the same academic and accreditation standards for public and private schools that receive state funding.

The most significant change to For AR Kids’ proposed ballot language is defining receipt of state or local funds as the school, a student attending the school or the student’s parents or guardians receiving “any State or local funds, property, or tax credits to cover or defray, in whole or part, the costs of any student attending the school.”

The revised measure would also apply to schools whose students or parents or guardians receive financial assistance for the cost of the student attending a school that’s “funded, in whole or in part, by monetary contributions that qualify for a state tax credit under Arkansas law.”

The clarification is a response to Attorney General Tim Griffin’s opinion last week in which he cited ambiguous terms for his inability to certify the proposed ballot title and language. 

For AR Kids again met with Griffin’s staff this week prior to submitting a revised proposal Thursday. 

According to a press release, the group made narrowly tailored changes to address Griffin’s specific concerns and asked for an expedited review to ensure volunteers have enough time to collect the required signatures for the November ballot.

“We have over 450 volunteers already and we are just starting our outreach efforts to train people on how to collect signatures and share details about how the Arkansas Educational Rights Amendment will improve the educational opportunities of ALL Arkansas students,” For AR Kids Secretary Steve Grappe said in a statement. “We are just getting going to build toward our goal of over 2,500 people helping collect signatures for the measure.”

Griffin has until March 1 to issue an opinion on the updated proposal. If he certifies the ballot language, For AR Kids has until July 5 to collect 90,704 signatures from at least 50 counties to qualify the measure for the 2024 ballot. 

For AR Kids’ member organizations include the Arkansas Education Association, Arkansas Conference of the NAACP, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Citizens First Congress and Citizens for Arkansas Public Education and Students (CAPES).

The coalition drafted its proposed measure in response to a new voucher program that provides nearly $6,700 per student in state funding for allowable educational expenses, including private school tuition.

Critics say the Educational Freedom Account program, a provision of the LEARNS Act, is unfair because private schools receiving state funding don’t have to follow the same requirements as their public counterparts, such as admitting all students, providing transportation and administering certain standardized tests. 

The LEARNS Act does require private schools to administer approved annual exams for EFA students.

In addition to equal standards, the proposed constitutional amendment would guarantee voluntary universal access to pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds, after-school and summer programming, quality special education and assistance for children in families within 200% of the Federal Poverty Line ($62,400 for a family of four).

The measure would also establish the minimum quality standards ordered in the Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee court decision. That case, which lasted 15 years, established a process for Arkansas public schools to be adequately funded.

Griffin rejected For AR Kids’ first submission on Jan. 9. The group resubmitted a second version on Jan. 18, but withdrew and replaced it with a third submission Jan. 25 after meeting with the attorney general’s staff. 

Griffin rejected that submission on Feb. 8. 

This story first appeared in Arkansas Advocate and is being republished through a Creative Commons License. See the original story here.

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