University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

News From The Capitol: March 26, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 26, 2015 at 7:22 pm

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The House Committee on Education met this morning to hear several bills with K-12 implications. The committee did not meet as planned this afternoon because of the House of Representatives’ lengthy agenda.

Transparency in Takeover
Rep. Clark Tucker brought back HB1605 that would ensure the same level of transparency exists whether the state education board or the local school board controls a school district. He said that if the state board contracts with a private entity for management, the third party’s work should be subject to freedom-of-information laws. Tucker asserted that the bill codifies existing case law so that all parties are aware of the requirements “on the front end” of a district takeover. The bill passed.

Civics Competency
Senate Bill 878 sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert and presented by Rep. Bruce Cozart generated some of the liveliest discussion of the day. The bill would require that all students pass the US citizenship civics test as a condition of high school graduation. Several committee members agreed with Cozart that adults’ knowledge of the nation’s governing system is lacking. Others questioned the need for the test and even speculated that the bill is an attempt to embarrass students who are immigrants. Two of the teachers attending the meeting during their spring break spoke against SB878, saying the test would not have the intended result and the bill’s language is too vague. The bill failed in a roll call vote.

Teacher Licensure Option
Sen. Blake Johnson presented SB744 to add a non-traditional pathway to teacher licensure for persons with significant experience in a content area and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. The bill’s purpose is to enhance the pool of highly qualified teachers. American Board of Certification for Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) board member Frank Attkisson said the ABCTE would work with ADE to develop the option for Arkansas, and an ADE spokesperson explained how the process would work. The bill passed without opposition.

Student Re-engagement
Sen. Joyce Elliott presented SB212 to establish a re-engagement system so that students 16-21 years of age who have completed less than one-half the credits for graduation may earn a diploma. Elliott called the bill an opportunity “to recapture students we have lost” and put them on a path to a career or further education. Students may still be in school or can reconnect with their high school and will work with a counselor to develop an individualized plan. The bill passed.

Dyslexia Legislation
Intense discussion also accompanied SB788 presented by Sen. Joyce Elliott and aimed at addressing issues encountered by schools in implementing the 2013 dyslexia legislation, Act 1294. Elliott prefaced her explanation of the bill by imploring committee members to believe their constituents who say their schools are proactively obstructing efforts to follow this law. “We still have work to do back in our districts to be sure our students are being helped,” Elliott said, but she also recognized the many districts that have good programs. She said the bill is an attempt to clarify parts of the law that have caused confusion, with criteria specified for training and definitions added for staff roles. Parents and teachers gave passionate testimony against the bill, calling it a step backward and an effort to water down the existing law. Elliott closed by saying the problem is a lack of enforcement of the law, not the bill itself. The bill passed with one opposed.

The Senate Committee on Education meets tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.

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