University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

I’m DREAMing of an NSLA Debate

In The View from the OEP on April 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

After generlunch_ladyating a lot of ‘hoopla’ on the OEP Blog here and here, and in the form of an OEP Policy Brief on Categorical Funding in Arkansas, our authority that the Senate Education Committee would be hearing legislation on potentially changing the way National School Lunch Act funds are spent in Arkansas schools fell flat. The Committee decided that SB811 (the NSLA Funding legislation proposed by Senator Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home) and SB 508, a separate NSLA funding bill filed by Senator Joyce Elliot (D-Little Rock) would be considered together at a later date…the reason, according to a tweet from the Arkansas Public School Resource Center (APSRC), was that Senator Elliot acknowledged that “one reason to not act on NSLA right now is because schools have already made plans for next year.”

So we didn’t hear debate on changing the NSLA Funding law…but the excitement didn’t end there. In fact Senator Elliot was “on deck” to present SB 915, commonly referred to as the Arkansas DREAM Act. The purpose of the bill would be to allow children of illegal immigrants in Arkansas to attend an Arkansas college at in-state tuition rates.

For example, the proposal would grant in-state tuition rates to anyone who has attended an Arkansas high school for at least three years and has an Arkansas high school diploma or general education diploma in the state. According to a March 24 article posted on Americans for Legal Immigration, supporters say it would more fairly treat students who came to the U.S. illegally as children, who have attended school here, but have to pay out-of-state tuition rates that are about double the in-state rates.

If passed, Arkansas would be the 13th state to enact such legislation at the state level. As of November 2012, twelve states passed their own versions of the DREAM Act. These states are Texas, California, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Maryland. Not bad company, huh Arkansas?!?!?

Dream ActHowever, the Senate Education Committee would see to it that Arkansas would not join this list. After passing the bill “viva voce” (by a voice vote), a roll call vote was requested, and ultimately led to the bill’s failure.

This was the third time the Arkansas General Assembly has attempted to pass DREAM Act legislation. 2005 marks the first time Senator Elliot proposed the legislation with the backing of then-Governor Mick Huckabee, a similar measure also failed in 2009 (which lacked the support of Governor Mike Beebe). The latest version of the bill not only passed the House Education Committee, but this time had the support of Governor Beebe. In fact, Senator Elliot was quoted in the meeting as saying “versions of this bill have been passed by the House twice.”

Unfortunately, the Senate Education Committee meeting today was standing room only, and most of our information was supplied by tweets from individuals in the room, and conversations we had with attendees after the meeting. Regardless, as advocates of education, we all have hope that our elected representatives keep the best interests of our state’s school children in the forefront of their decision making. At this rate, it looks like we will have to wait another 4 years to see this legislation cycle back around.

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