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HB 1377: Freeing Up Traditional Schools?

In The View from the OEP on March 12, 2015 at 12:41 pm

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Who signed on to HB1377?

The House Education Committee discussed a surprisingly controversial bill last week. Why surprising? Well, House Bill 1377, sponsored by Representative Reginald Murdock (D) of Marianna, boasts a very long list of Democrat and Republican co-sponsors.  The list included: Rep. Charles Armstrong (D) Little Rock, Rep. Charles Blake (D) Little Rock, Rep. Mary Broadaway (D) Paragould, Rep. Charlotte Douglas (R) Alma, Rep. Ken Ferguson (D) Pine Bluff, Rep.  Michael John Gray (D) Augusta, Rep. Kim Hendren (R) Gravette, Rep. Greg Leding (D) Fayetteville, Rep. Fredrick Love (D) Little Rock, Rep. George McGill (D) Ft. Smith, Rep. Milton Nicks (D) Marion, Rep. Chris Richey (D) Helena, Rep. Dan Sullivan (R) Jonesboro, Rep. John Walker (D) Little Rock, Rep. David Whitaker (D) Fayetteville and Rep. Marshall Wright (D) Forrest City.

What does  HB1377 say?

As currently written, HB1377 would allow school districts the same waivers granted to open-enrollment charter schools that draw from their districts. Representative Murdock, several superintendents, and a school board president from eastern Arkansas testified that some of the same policies waived for charter schools have limited the ability of nearby traditional schools districts to successfully serve the students in their schools.

During the lengthy and often animated discussion on Wednesday, March 4, proponents and opponents agreed the depth of the public conversation was important and overdue. Indeed, some of the same lawmakers signed on as sponsors of the bill no longer seemed in favor of it!  In the end, the bill received a Do Pass recommendation in a close vote.

The key theme of Representative Murdock’s testimony was the need for flexibility for school leaders. Claiming that “one size does not fit all”, Murdock argued that, “There has to be an affirmation that flexibility and innovation and ingenuity has a place.”  Essentially, he and his fellow advocates of the bill argued that the same waivers that allow charter schools to, for example, hire award winning journalist John Brummett to teach a journalism class, should be afforded to nearby traditional schools.

What can OEP’s research say about  HB1377?

As we at the OEP observed this hubbub, we thought back to our recent state-commissioned evaluation of Arkansas’ public charter schools. One of the questions we examined was: What waivers do charter schools seek?  In our view, lawmakers making a decision on this bill — that would allow traditional public schools to seek the same waivers as public charter schools — might want to know the answer to this question.  Thus, we hope that our policy brief published today adds useful information to the discussion that will soon head to the House Floor and also to the Senate.

What did we find? Well, charter schools across the state sought the following five waivers:

Top 5 Waiver Areas for Open Enrollment Charters:

  1. Teacher licensure
  2. Teacher and employee fair dismissal act, contract requirements, and hiring mandates (such as library media specialist)
  3. Gifted and talented programming
  4. Teacher salary and schedule
  5. Principal qualifications and responsibilities

Top 5 Waiver Areas for All Types of Charters (Conversion and Open Enrollment):

  1. Teacher licensure
  2. School year and school day length
  3. Gifted and talented
  4. Class size and teaching load
  5. Duty limits

Our count of waiver requests indicates that nearly all (92%) of the state’s charters requested waivers related to teacher licensure — school leaders have voiced the need to consider hiring teachers who are qualified but not traditionally licensed. While school leaders seek this flexibility, and do take advantage of it to fill many teaching needs, it is also true that the majority of teachers working at charter schools are traditionally licensed.

Most open enrollment charter school leaders also wanted waivers related to flexibility with teacher and employee contracts, teacher salary structure, and principal qualifications.  Our newest OEP Policy Brief takes a more in-depth look at the types of flexibility these school leaders want and why they want this flexibility.

Where will this discussion lead?

This bill has certainly encouraged reactions among the key stakeholders in Arkansas.  The primary teacher group in the state, the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) has referred to HB1377 as a “particularly dangerous bill.”

On the other side of the argument, the editorial board at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette has come out in favor of the proposed legislation, making the following argument:

If, say, Michael Jordan wanted to coach the basketball team at your local public school, would you want him to? Sure, you’d want him to.  But in this state, he might not be considered qualified–what with no official certificate to teach in the public schools.

The Dem Gaz supports HB1377 in that it would free up all schools, public charter or traditional public, to hire someone like Mr. Jordan.

Strangely, at first glance, it seems that Max Brantley and the folks at the Arkansas Times are thinking along the same lines as the Dem Gaz! The March 3 entry in the Arkansas Times Blog, on HB1377, ended with the following question:  But what, really, is the rationale for unleashing charter schools and not everybody else?

Representative Murdock ended his testimony on March 3 with the following hopeful sentiment and plea: “I believe that on both sides of the aisle we have compassionate people. Can we work together?”

Who knows?  If the Dem Gaz and the Ark Times agree, perhaps anything can happen!!

And Now, For Some Good News

In The View from the OEP on April 1, 2015 at 12:03 pm

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In the midst of all of the education-related controversy (and hyperbole) in early March about HB 1733, HB 1377, and PARCC testing (HB 1241: The Fate of PARCC in Arkansas and Testing in Progress: Please Do Not Disturb!), some very good news for Arkansas was quietly shared in the March 12th edition of the Washington Post. The Post reporter dug into some tables generated by the National Center for Education Statistics and came up with the unhappy conclusion that “In 23 states, richer school districts get more local funding than poorer districts”.

In Arkansas, however, the poorest students receive MORE dollars per pupil than do students of our state’s most affluent districts.  This is true for either type of per pupil expenditure (just state and local funding, or state, local and federal funding combined). To learn more about the actual data, here is a link to one of the key spreadsheets documenting our state’s success at improving funding equity for low-income students.

What this table highlights is that, in Arkansas in 2011-12, the current expenditures per pupil for ALL students was $9,215 (cell C9 of worksheet).  However, specifically for students in high-poverty districts in Arkansas, the current expenditures per pupil was $9,737.  This funding level exceeds the funding allocated to students in the least-poverty-stricken districts by more than 11%.  This funding disparity, in favor of the state’s poorest students, places Arkansas well above the national average and in a better position than 30 other states!

If you have followed OEP reports in the past, you may know that we’ve written about school funding equity in the past several times.  Here are some of our reports:

School funding equity is particularly important in Arkansas because of the longstanding and important Lake View school funding lawsuit.  In our analyses of funding equity seven long years ago, after several years of funding under the new school finance model, we wrote:

“Arkansas policymakers have achieved a great deal over the past few years, increasing overall funding substantially statewide, particularly in districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students… Moreover, policymakers have enacted policies to enhance the equity of our system through dramatic funding increases to small school districts, districts serving our most disadvantaged students, districts serving high percentages of minority students, and districts whose students are struggling academically… Arkansas lawmakers have spent the last several years increasing the resources allocated to K-12 education, eliminating gaps in resources between rich and poor students.”

In that context, the results presented recently by the National Center for Education Statistics provide further evidence that our new state funding formula has succeeded not only in equalizing spending between rich and poor, but actually in allocating additional resources toward our state’s poorest students.  This is GREAT NEWS!

Unfortunately, the news is not all good.  As we noted in our study of achievement gaps just this past year, stubborn achievement gaps persist between our state’s affluent and economically disadvantaged students.   We have made great headway in equalizing resources; now our educational leaders need to redouble their efforts to devise innovative strategies to improve outcomes for the students we have been under-serving for years.

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.

News From The Capitol: March 4, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 4, 2015 at 4:59 pm

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On Tuesday, March 3, the House Committee on Education heard testimony on K-12 bills related to administering medication to students with diabetes, granting waivers to school districts like those of nearby public school charter schools, and eliminating the PARCC assessment after this school year.

Administering Medication
Rep. Bill Gossage presented HB1395 that would authorize a volunteer to administer insulin and glucagon to a student with diabetes, but only in an emergency situation in which the school nurse is unavailable. The bill specifies that a student’s parents must have made a request in advance, and the request must be approved by the student’s physician. A school employee must volunteer and be trained. Several parents of diabetic students gave passionate testimony for and against the bill, and committee discussion touched on whether more nurses are needed in schools. The committee approved a Do Pass recommendation.

Waivers for School Districts
Rep. Reginald Murdock presented HB1377 that would allow school districts the same waivers granted to open-enrollment charter schools that draw from their districts. Murdock, several superintendents, and a school board president from eastern Arkansas testified that some of the policies waived for charter schools have penalized schools districts competing for the same students. During the lengthy and often animated discussion, proponents and opponents agreed the depth of the public conversation was important and overdue. The bill received a Do Pass recommendation in a close vote.  Keep an eye out for more information from OEP on this interesting topic! 

Limiting PARCC
Rep. Mark Lowery introduced HB1241 that would eliminate the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test in June 2015. Representatives of the Arkansas School Counselors Association (ArSCA) spoke in favor of the bill and shared results of a school counselor survey that cited technology difficulties and the need for more teachers in classrooms during testing. The Arkansas Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (AASCD) and Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) spoke against the bill, saying the Governor’s common core task force should be allowed to conduct its work before any assessment options are eliminated. The committee voted a Do Pass recommendation, and the bill moves to the House of Representatives.

This morning the Senate education committee passed bills related to school consolidation and athletic competition between home school and public school teams.

School Consolidation
Sen. Blake Johnson and Rep. Bruce Cozart presented HB1263 that would allow school districts with fewer than 350 students to request a waiver from consolidation if the district is not in fiscal, facility or academic distress. The bill passed through committee without opposition and moves to the Senate floor.

Athletic Competition
Sen. Jim Hendren presented SB331 to require the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) to make rules allowing athletic competition between home school teams and public school teams that want to play each other. Current AAA policy forbids such competition. According to testimony, Arkansas home school teams often travel out of state to compete, yet other states’ home school teams can play against Arkansas public school teams in tournaments here. SB331 would not force competition between teams but would require the AAA to make policies allowing it. The bill passed by a narrow margin and goes on to the Senate.