Aug 19, 2023 - Education

Arkansas school voucher program begins rollout

Illustration of two backpacks; one empty and one stuffed with cash.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Arkansas' voucher program that allows public education dollars to be spent at private schools, or for students to attend public schools outside their districts, is in its first phase.

Context: The voucher program, one of the most contentious pieces of the LEARNS Act approved in the spring, needs three years to be in full effect. Eventually, all students will be eligible for the Educational Freedom Account.

How it works: To participate this school year, students must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Be entering kindergarten
  • Have a disability
  • Be experiencing homelessness
  • Have previously been or are currently in foster care
  • Have a parent in the military
  • Have been enrolled in a public school with an F rating or declared in need of intensive support last year

Details: Nearly 100 private and parochial schools in Arkansas had applied to participate in the voucher system as of last week, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Education. At least 14 of the schools are in Benton and Washington counties.

  • The list includes Bentonville Christian Academy, St. Joseph Catholic School in Fayetteville, Prism in Fayetteville, and Providence Classical Christian Academy.

By the numbers: Statewide, 5,031 students had applied for the program as of mid-August, Arkansas Department of Education spokesperson Kimberly Mundell told Axios.

  • That's about 1% of the student population for the 2022-23 school year.
  • The state is capping participation in the Educational Freedom Account at 1.5% of the total student population for the 2023-24 school year.
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