Education savings account bill fails in Arkansas House

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House defeated a proposal to allow parents to open tax-exempt savings accounts to defray private education tuitions, as well as give tax credits for donations to nonprofits managing the accounts.

Thursday's 47-37 vote rejecting Republican Rep. Jim Dotson's proposal came after one Democratic lawmaker said it was a path to school vouchers.

The measure called for savings accounts worth up to $6,700 per year managed by nonprofit organizations.

The bill also allowed taxpayers to donate to the eligible nonprofits in return for state tax credits to be limited to $3 million overall after the first year.

Eligible students' parents could use the money for several expenses, including private school tuition, testing, textbooks, uniforms, transportation and summer programs. Students enrolled in public schools would not be eligible.

"This bill is about customizing an education opportunity for an individual student," Dotson said.

The measure initially did not have an expiration date, but was later changed to be a pilot program and end after four years. Supportive representatives said public schools would not be affected by the program since so few students would take part of the pilot program, and said it deserved a chance.

Republican Rep. James Sturch said that not all parents in the state would be able to take advantage of the program.

Sturch said some parts of Arkansas do not have a lot of private schools or charter schools, placing some parents at a disadvantage if the bill were to pass simply because of where they lived.

Democratic Rep. John Walker said that would open the door to vouchers. Arkansas Education Association executive director Tracey-Ann Nelson said the measure's failure to get out of the House shows that the legislators care about public education.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson's spokesman J.R. Davis said Hutchinson fully supported the legislation.

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