University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Spend Your Time Wisely

In AR Legislature on April 25, 2011 at 8:11 am

As promised, we are going to provide a more in-depth view of the education legislation that resulted from the 88th General Assembly 2011 session. Today, we are going to talk about school-related bills that specifically affect how time is spent, or that allow for a little extra time.

Extended School Year Legislation

First of all, you may remember that, at the OEP conference in November 2010, Richard Abernathy floated the idea of extending the school year. A bill was actually introduced this session by Senator David Johnson to allow additional funding for certain high-need schools to do just that. The bill didn’t go anywhere this time around, but the OEP research staff did provide some evidence in support of Senator Johnson’s billWhile the bill itself did not go anywhere, the concept of extended learning time made a little step forward with a bill sponsored by Senator Johnny Key and Representative Eddie Cheatham to study the advantages and disadvantages of an extended school year.

A few other time-centered laws include:

HB 1224, sponsored by Representative Stewart, allows for an extension of the law concerning common spring break for public schools. This one was signed into law as Act Number 46. It looks like universities, colleges, and public schools students and families will continue to have a common spring break.

HB 1099, now Act 65, sponsored by Representative Homer Lenderman, gives public schools a little more flexibility in start dates. This is especially beneficial for schools (such as those in the northern part of the state) that typically use their spring break  making up for missed snow days. By starting a little earlier, these schools can build a little extra padding in their school year on the front end, before testing in April, instead of on spring break or in the summer.

Schools won’t bear all the responsibility for ensuring kids spend more time there. Representative McLean sponsored HB 1995  that will be a first step in addressing excessive absences. First of all, it requires schools to track school absences more effectively by identifying which type of absences are actually excusable, and ensuring that there will be consequences for students with excessive absences. The act requires school districts to develop strategies for promoting maximum student attendance as part of a 6-year education plan. It even gives schools authorization to use alternative classrooms instead of school suspension and send students with excessive absences and their parents to a conference with a community truancy board. If a student exceeds the number of allowable absences, and has not made special arrangements with the district administration, the district must notify the prosecuting authority and community truancy board, if one has been created. The parent or guardian is subject to a civil penalty through a FINS (Family in need of services)  action that does not exceed $500.00 plus the cost of courts and any reasonable fees assessed by the court.

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