The push for school vouchers is spreading across the South, even as the legacy of private schools as *segregation academies* lives on…
Today begins our school choice tour, reader, and judging from the speed with which various choice choices are popping up across the land, the tour will be of some duration. We’re starting in Arkansas, because it begins with ‘A’ and also it because it represents a less-palatable part of the school choice *conversation.* Before school choice became the *civil rights issue of our time,* it was the chosen choice of white parents who were fleeing newly desegregated schools for private schools. In fact, the legacy of that ugly history hangs heavy enough over Arkansas’ private schools today that the Walton family, America’s first family of all things school choice, chose not to push for private school vouchers in its home state. Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did in 2015 with Walton Family Foundation senior program officer Kathy Smith, who oversees the foundation’s Arkansas portfolio:
There are some differences in what you can do in a rural state and what’s appropriate to do, frankly, in a rural state vs a larger urban environment. And so some of the things we do in terms of policy support in some of our larger urban environments are not even appropriate in Arkansas. For example, I know in some other jurisdictions where we work we’re very very keen about school choice, perhaps in regards to a voucher program or education savings accounts. In Arkansas we don’t even have an adequate supply of private school options to where it would have the same impact. And many of our private schools, for example in the Delta, were originally formed to be academies that would segregate. Many of them probably today wouldn’t accept scholarship kids.
Fast forward two years and the Waltons are backing a controversial bill that combines two new school choice faves—1) *tax credit scholarships* that would let well-heeled Arkansans and corporations claim hefty state and federal tax deductions for donating to a nonprofit, which then disperses funds to choice-seeking parents in the form of 2) an education savings account, which lets parents pay for private school tuition using a *backpack full of cash.* So what’s changed? Not the number of private schools. Arkansas has just 230 of them, and that’s before you cross off the schools that charge The White Choice – Have You Heard: