The House Committee on Education met twice today and heard bills on legislative days for teachers, transfer of unused sick leave, school choice, Governor’s scholars, best practices in special education, and core courses with no enrollment.
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1596 to require school districts to provide between five and ten “legislative days” per school year for teachers to attend sessions and education committee meetings of the House of Representatives and Senate. The purpose of the bill is to foster open communication between teachers and legislators. The bill provides that teachers would apply to their district’s personnel policy committee to use one of legislative days, which would be funded through the “school business days” portion of their existing budget. Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA) Executive Director Richard Abernathy spoke against the bill, expressing concern about the impact on small school districts and saying that districts should participate by choice rather than mandate. The bill received a Do Pass recommendation and moves to the floor of the House.
Rep. Charlotte Douglas also presented HB1597 to clarify the policy on accumulated sick leave when teachers transfer from one district to another. The bill specifies that credit for unused sick leave transfers with the teacher if the former school district submits documentation of the leave. The bill seeks to prevent situations in which teachers may not be paid for accumulated sick leave upon retirement. The bill passed without opposition.
Rep. Bruce Cozart and Sen. Alan Clark presented SB179 that would extend the school choice law set to expire in June 2015. The bill requires school districts that request an exemption from school choice because of a desegregation order must provide a copy of the federal order to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). A vigorous discussion followed a representative’s suggestion that school choice policy has a hidden agenda of racism. The bill passed narrowly out of committee.
Rep. Bruce Cozart also presented HB1836 to amend the Arkansas Governor’s Scholars Program to combine the Governor’s Scholars and the Governor’s Distinguished Scholars into a single program for high-achieving students. The bill continues the policy of ensuring at least one recipient per county. The bill passed without opposition.
Special Education Best Practices
Rep. Sheila Lampkin presented HB1485 to establish a legislative task force to study special education best practices as shown in research and to review a variety of current practices as detailed in the bill. The bill also specifies how task force members will be selected and sets February 2016 as the deadline for a preliminary report. The bill passed without opposition.
Core Courses without Students
Sen. Alan Clark presented SB325 that would ensure schools and districts are not in violation of accreditation standards if they offer a course in which no students enroll. Clark gave an example of a school in his legislative district that was placed in probationary status when all the calculus students enrolled in AP calculus rather than core calculus. Jerri Derlikowski of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) expressed concern that the bill does not include limits on how many or how often exceptions may be made. Richard Abernathy of AAEA spoke in support of the bill, saying it keeps schools from forcing students into courses so the school can avoid probation. The bill passed without opposition.