NEWS: Arkansas Legislature Could Debate School Choice in 2013

From the Arkansas News Bureau:

LITTLE ROCK — This year alone, 12 states and the District of Columbia have created or expanded school choice options. Some Arkansas lawmakers want the Legislature to broaden the state’s school choice law in 2013.

Currently in Arkansas, students can to apply to transfer to a school district outside of the district in which they live. However, as a safeguard against racial segregation, the law prohibits a student from transferring to a district where the percentage of the student’s race exceeds the percentage of the student’s home district, with some exceptions.

Rep. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, said Monday he and other lawmakers are in the early stages of developing legislation that would allow parents to choose the public school their children attend, and offer either vouchers or tax credits if parents opt for private schools.

“We’re talking about true school choice, either through a voucher or a tax credit system that enables parents and students to make the ultimate decision about their child’s education,” Sanders said after attending a panel discussion on school choice involving former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige and Virginia Walden Ford, a Central High School graduate who later served as executive director of the D.C. Parents for School Choice Program.

Ford recently moved back to Little Rock from Washington.

“There have been significant changes in some of our political makeup to where we think the timing is right,” Sanders said.

During the panel discussion, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, Paige and Ford both spoke of the benefits of school choice and referred to studies showing students who choose where they want to go to school frequently score higher on achievement tests.

Ford said her teenage son was struggling both in and out of school when someone offered him a scholarship to attend a private high school in Washington. Her son later graduated valedictorian of his class, she said.

Ford later helped organize D.C. Parents for School Choice and, working with hundreds of parents across the district, lobbied Congress to create the D.C. School Choice Incentive Act. The law created a school voucher program to help low-income families choose private schools for their children, along with providing federal funding for traditional schools and charter schools.