University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

News From The Capitol: March 25, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 25, 2015 at 6:25 pm

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The Senate Committee on Education met this morning and voted on several bills with K-12 implications. This afternoon’s meeting was cancelled because of the Senate’s lengthy agenda.

Ads on Buses
Sen. Jim Hendren presented HB1495 to permit school boards to allow advertising on school buses. The bill tasks the Commission for Arkansas Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation with developing the guidelines and provides that school boards may use the revenue generated from advertising for transportation purposes only. The bill passed after committee members were assured the advertising would not divert attention in a way that would interfere with safety.

Academic Distress Exemption
Sen. Eddie Cheatham presented SB858 to allow the state education board to exempt from the academic distress classification those schools that exist to serve at-risk students. The bill passed without opposition.

Waivers for School Districts
Rep. Reginald Murdock presented HB1377 that would allow school districts to apply for the same waivers granted to open-enrollment charter schools that draw from their districts. Noting “one size does not fit all,” Murdock explained that districts need some flexibility to work with their specific student populations. He cited extended school days and the ability to hire an outstanding but non-certified teacher as examples of waivers that would help improve student achievement in traditional public schools. Murdock addressed two of the common arguments against the bill, saying the intent is neither to dilute the standards nor to eliminate fair dismissal of teachers. A representative of AAEA offered support for the bill; an AEA spokesperson said the bill “waives services that students deserve.” The bill passed unopposed. [Link to OEP policy brief on HB1377.]

Partnership Plan Review
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1913 to amend state law regarding application for public school facilities funding. HB1913 provides for timely receipt of a written copy of partnership application review conference findings from ADE’s Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation. A district that wants a review conference must make the request at least 60 days before the application deadline and will receive the Division’s findings in time to address any issues. Ft. Smith Superintendent Benny Gooden said the new language would prevent districts’ applications being denied for minor technicalities. The bill passed without opposition.

Sick Leave
Rep. Charlotte Douglas 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, as long as 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.

Dating Violence
Rep. Douglas also presented HB1685 to require teaching dating violence awareness in health classes for grades 7-12. Douglas stressed the importance of understanding dating violence as a type of bullying and a precursor to domestic violence. The topic is already part of the curriculum but often skipped. The bill specifies teaching the material in October for fall courses and February for spring courses to align with national awareness campaigns. The bill passed without opposition.

School Nurses
Rep. Julie Mayberry presented two bills on public school health services. The bills stem from findings contained in a Public School Health Services Advisory Committee report. HB1442 provides for the advisory committee to continue its work and requires that results of each district’s annual school health report be shared with their school board. HB1443 specifies the minimum requirements for a school nursing center in new buildings and establishes a pilot program for grants to improve existing facilities. Both bills passed without opposition. [HB1444 to modify requirements for nursing staff to include an RN supervisor in each district failed in the House education committee.]

The Senate Committee on Education meets again on Friday morning. The House education committee meets tomorrow morning and afternoon.

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