University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Posts Tagged ‘AR Legislature’

A Few Additions to the 2015 Legislative Summary…

In AR Legislature on April 22, 2015 at 10:28 am

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Here are highlights of several new laws not mentioned in the 2015 Legislative Summary policy brief published last week on the OEP website.

School board elections. SB968 (Act 1281) gives school districts the choice of holding annual school elections on the third Tuesday in September or on the day of the general election in November. While some legislators expressed concern that board members could use the law to steer the outcome of elections, proponents said the bill gives school districts the flexibility they have requested for several years. Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) sponsored the bill.

Union membership. HB1957 (Act 964) gives public school employees the flexibility to join or leave labor organizations at any time. Labor organizations and employers may not place any restrictions on a term for membership. Rep. Grant Hodges (R-Rogers) sponsored the legislation.

Academic distress. SB858 (Act 1272) sponsored by Sen. Eddie Cheatham (D-Crossett) allows certain schools to be exempt from academic distress classification, including public schools designated as alternative learning environments (ALE) and charter schools focused on students at risk of dropping out of school. Act 1272 gives authority to the state education board to develop criteria for granting the exemption.

Special education. HB1485 (Act 839) establishes a legislative task force on best practices in special education. While members of the Senate Committee on Education lamented the overuse of task forces in recent years, they agreed with bill sponsor and former special education teacher Rep. Sheilla Lampkin (D-Monticello) on the significance of this work. Act 839 outlines the work of the task force, member selection, and reporting requirements.

Concealed carry. HB1505 (Act 1078) removes some restrictions on possessing a handgun on public property, including public school parking lots and drop-off zones. The new law allows the holder of a “concealed carry” license to have a handgun in their vehicle as they drop off or pick up children at school, and to leave the handgun in their locked, unattended vehicle in a school parking lot. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne) and heard by the House and Senate judiciary committees rather than the education committees.

The House and Senate education committees will begin their monthly joint meetings on June 8 and 9.

Legislative Summary: Education Policy in the 2015 General Session

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on April 17, 2015 at 2:43 pm

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The 2015 legislative session will formally adjourn next week, but most of the hard work wrapped up on April 9. The policy brief that OEP published today highlights the major pieces of K-12 legislation that passed through the House and Senate education committees in the past few weeks. In reflecting on the conversations from these meetings and the issues described in the brief, we thought about at least three dynamics working beneath the surface of education policy: its personal nature, its connection between our past and future, and its role in the larger scheme.

Personal nature. The formalities of policymaking can seem cold and impersonal. Bills are written according to strict standards to pass legal muster. Floor debates and committee discussions follow formal, orderly procedures. Sitting (or standing) in the audience, though, brings to mind that education policy is intensely personal.

Education policy is about us and the people we love. We remember learning to write our names in cursive, memorizing important dates in history, and penciling in the bubble sheet of a standardized test. Our lives revolve around our children’s daily achievements and struggles, sometimes taking place in the same classrooms where we sat back in the day. Education policy is personal to the legislator who recalls her mother teaching 3rd grade and taking tickets at ballgames, her father coaching and driving the bus. It’s personal to the parent who goes to the school each day to personally give medication to his child.

Connecting past and future. Education policy ties together where we’ve been and where we’re going. Students today need to be able to read the original Declaration of Independence penned in cursive and have proficient keyboarding skills to take tests electronically. School nurses still put Band-Aids® on scraped knees, but they also administer life-saving medications, suction feeding tubes, and monitor students with eating disorders. Students who learn to weld in shop class may well put the skill to use in a high-paying job that’s part of the global economy. These examples and more came up in recent education committee meetings.

The larger scheme. Like many parts of our lives, policy content is divided into categories and examined in isolation. We couldn’t help but notice in the policy brief, though, how many education bills pertain to health, community prosperity, and job creation and preparation. Education, economic development, and public health are interwoven systems that we tend to address separately and expect to work in synchrony.

As you read the 2015 Legislative Summary, consider education policy for its personal nature, its connection of past to future, and its place in the larger scheme, along with your own observations.

News From The Capitol: March 30, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 30, 2015 at 1:21 pm

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The House and Senate education committees met this morning in a final push to move bills out of committee for consideration by the their respective bodies before the legislature’s Good Friday break. Below is a summary of those bills related to K-12 education policy.

House Committee on Education

Academic Distress Exemption
Senate Bill 858 would allow the state education board to exempt from the academic distress classification those schools that exist to serve at-risk students. The bill passed.

Charter School Facilities
Sen. Alan Clark presented SB847 to establish a reclamation process through the Academic Facilities Distress Program so that open enrollment public charter schools could access unused school buildings on the brink of decline. Representatives of AAEA and ASBA oppose the bill, citing too much authority given to the Director of the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation and the lack of mechanisms for local school board input and appeals. The bill failed. (The bill came up again in an afternoon meeting of the House education committee and failed a second time.)

Civics Competency
Senate Bill 878 to require that all students pass the US citizenship civics test as a condition of high school graduation was presented for a second hearing and failed again.

Senate Committee on Education

Kindergarten Early Admission
Rep. Jana Della Rosa presented HB1539 to allow a parent whose child’s fifth birthday occurs between August 1 and September 1 to petition for the child’s early admission to kindergarten. The bill provided that schools must have space available at the end of the first week of school for an early admission request to be granted. Della Rosa contended that the lack of flexibility in current policy is unfair to those children who are ready for kindergarten at this age, especially since the state allows the transfer to kindergarten of similarly situated children from other states. A spokesperson for AAEA opposed the bill, since schools would be required to admit the child if space is available. The bill failed for lack of a second to the Do Pass motion.

Lottery Scholarship
Sen. Jimmy Hickey presented HB1779 to allow lottery scholarship recipients who enter college with 27 hours or more of concurrent credit to receive the scholarship amount awarded to sophomores. The bill provides that the regulation would take effect in the 2016-17 school year but students entering college in 2015-16 may contact the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to request consideration if the bill becomes law. The bill passed.

Resource Officer Jurisdiction
Sen. Blake Johnson presented HB1583 to broaden the jurisdiction in which school resource officers (SRO) may issue citations or make arrests. Current law limits SROs’ authority when traveling with a school group and any problems must be handled by a nearby law enforcement agency. When a spokesperson for Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) opposed the bill because of concerns that SROs’ misuse of authority sends children to the juvenile court system, committee members pointed out that the bill also allows the officers to cite or arrest adults. The bill passed without opposition.

News From The Capitol: March 27, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 27, 2015 at 6:37 pm

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The Senate Committee on Education met this afternoon and discussed several bills with implications for K-12. The most vigorous discussions related to bills on national school lunch state categorical funding and teaching American History.

NSL State Funding
Sen. Joyce Elliott presented SB851 that would narrow the list of uses for NSL state funds. Elliott acknowledged that her intent was not to ask the committee to vote on a specific list today but to put education stakeholders on notice to begin looking for replacement funds. She said that two adequacy studies could not determine the impact that NSL funds are having on closing the achievement gap for children from low-income families because the money is distributed across so many programs. A spokesperson for Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) concurred, saying the agency’s research into the effectiveness of the state’s $220 million investment has been inconclusive due to the breadth of spending. Elliott reminded committee members that OEP, Picus Odden, and the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) all have recommended that the legislature focus on the intent of the NSL funds to address the achievement gap by paring the list of allowable uses. Committee members agreed that difficult choices are necessary. Elliott pulled the bill and referred it for interim study.

History Lessons
Sen. Linda Collins-Smith presented SB1007 (amended) to provide more coverage of American history in social studies and history classes in grades 7-12. Collins-Smith expressed concern that students receive only limited exposure to important periods in history that shaped our nation. Some committee members agreed that more class time should be devoted to history, and Debbie Jones of ADE explained the arduous work of the curriculum committee in determining how best to cover the growing body of material. After much discussion, the bill passed.

These bills also passed in committee today: HB1623 to increase the minimum salary schedule for teachers, HB1991 to provide a duty-free, uninterrupted 30-minute lunch period for full time classified school employees, HB1552 to establish a private school option for students with disabilities who are not learning in public schools.

Both the House and Senate education committees meet on Monday, March 30, at 10 a.m.

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.

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 24, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 24, 2015 at 8:40 pm

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The House Committee on Education met twice today and voted on several K-12 related bills.

Students with Disabilities
Rep. Douglas House presented HB1552 to establish the Succeed Scholarship Program for students with disabilities who may not be thriving in a traditional public school setting. House said that most children with disabilities are successful with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but this bill provides a private school option for those whose needs go unmet. Foundation funds would not be used; a separate budget item would be established for the 2016-17 school year. Committee members expressed concern about how the private schools would be held accountable for their use of state funds. Several organizations’ representatives spoke against the bill, citing the lack of specificity on curriculum, staff credentials, and accreditation standards; the potential for abuse of the system; and the fiscal impact on the state. After a lengthy discussion, bill passed unopposed.

Resource Officer Jurisdiction
Rep. Bill Gossage presented HB1583 to broaden the jurisdiction in which school resource officers may issue citations or make arrests. Current law limits resource officers’ authority when traveling with a school group, and any problems must be handled by a nearby law enforcement agency. AAEA supported the bill, with a spokesperson explaining that a student group may have a lengthy wait in an isolated area before police arrive. An Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) representative opposing the bill said, “This is yet another way to force juvenile courts to deal with school discipline issues.” After extensive discussion, the bill passed.

Anonymous Bullying
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1683 to address issues with anonymous bullying through electronic means. The bill provides school districts with a legal avenue to obtain the name on the account used for bullying. HB1683 passed through committee without opposition.

Duty-Free Lunch
Rep. Charlotte Douglas also presented HB1991 to provide a 30-minute, uninterrupted duty-free lunch period for full time classified school employees, except in emergency situations. Employees who miss their duty-free lunch periods will be paid their hourly rate. The bill passed unopposed.

NSL Funding Uses
Rep. Charles Armstrong presented HB1958 that would direct 2% of national school lunch state categorical funds to grants to support after-school and summer programs. Committee members and organizational representatives discussed whether the bill is at odds with adequacy laws and how other district programs may suffer from the loss of funding. AACF and Arkansas Public Policy Panel representatives spoke for the bill, citing the efficacy of after-school and summer programs and the bill’s alignment with the original intent of NSL funding. Ultimately, the bill failed.


The Senate Committee on Education met yesterday after the Senate adjourned, and a sizeable audience waited for the late afternoon discussion of dyslexia policy.

Dyslexia Policy
Sen. Joyce Elliott presented SB788 aimed at addressing some difficulties school districts have encountered in implementing dyslexia legislation, Act 1294 of 2013. She explained that the bill clarifies the titles, roles, and training requirements for staff; specifies the criteria for instruction; and modifies the makeup of the committee responsible for the Arkansas Dyslexia Resource Guide. Elliott commended the school districts doing a good job with dyslexia programming but said “some have been inexplicably obstructionist” and should be held accountable. Following testimony from various stakeholders, the bill passed without opposition.

News From The Capitol: March 20, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 20, 2015 at 3:13 pm

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In its third meeting this week, the Senate Committee on Education heard 26 bills in this morning’s three-hour session. Among those having broad interest for Arkansas K-12 were bills on PARCC, an alternative path to graduation, care for students with diabetes, best practices in special education, scheduling flexibility, and school safety.

PARCC
As we speculated earlier this week after an amendment to HB1241 was hurriedly passed just as the Senate education committee meeting adjourned, another amendment was approved this morning to correct some dates and language. The PARCC bill now on its way to the full Senate provides that: 1) after the 2015-16 school year, the State Board of Education cannot contract for PARCC or any other assessment for more than one year at a time; and 2) the state board must consider the recommendations of the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review before contracting for an assessment for the 2016-17 school year. The bill’s emergency clause that would have discontinued the use of PARCC as soon as the governor signed it into law now states that PARCC “may need to be discontinued after the 2015-16 school year.” (The newly amended bill was not available online when this post was published.)

Path to Diploma
Senator Joyce Elliott presented SB212 to establish a re-engagement system so that students 16-21 years of age who have completed fewer than one-half the credits for graduation may earn a diploma. Representatives of a high school, a two-year college, and the armed forces joined Elliott in offering several scenarios in which a student may use a “differentiated pathway” to graduation, rather than dropping out or getting a GED. A student who masters complex computational skills in a welding course at a two-year college or technical institute, for example, may be able to earn concurrent credit for high school algebra. Programs would be skills-based and student-driven, and school districts may elect whether to participate. The bill passed.

Diabetes Care
Senator Elliott also presented HB1395 that would authorize a volunteer to administer insulin and glucagon to a student with diabetes, but only in an emergency in which the school nurse is unavailable. The bill specifies that a student’s parents must have made a request in advance, and the student’s physician must approve the request. A school employee may volunteer and must be trained. The parent of a diabetic student explained her support for the bill; a representative of the Arkansas State Board of Nursing and a Little Rock School District nurse spoke against the bill. The bill passed.

Special Education Task Force
After initially decrying “another task force,” the Senate committee passed HB1485 to establish a task force to study special education best practices as shown in research and to review a variety of current practices detailed in the bill. The bill also specifies task force member selection and reporting deadlines.

Art, Music, and PE
The committee passed HB1527 to give school districts flexibility in scheduling art, music, and physical education in 40- to 60-minute periods. Current law sets art and music classes at “no less than 40 minutes” and physical education classes at 60 minutes per week. The purpose of HB1527 is to allow districts to schedule those classes in equal periods if desired. Committee members commented on the number of emails from constituents concerned that one or more of the three courses might be in jeopardy, which is not the aim of the bill.

School Safety Act
Rep. Bruce Cozart presented HB1653 to establish the 2015 School Safety Act. The bill modifies current school safety policy to include a panic button alert system that connects a caller with 911 and notifies on-site personnel simultaneously. One feature of the system is an app that allows authorized users to activate the panic button with a smartphone. Cozart gave examples of using the app in case of a bus accident, a health emergency, or an active shooter. An amendment to the bill clarifies that the system is contingent upon funding, and Cozart said that numerous policymakers are working to identify funding sources. The bill passed.

The Senate Committee on Education plans to meet on Monday, March 23, upon adjournment of the Senate session.

News From The Capitol: March 19, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 19, 2015 at 6:04 pm

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The House Committee on Education met this morning and voted on numerous bills that created lively discussions.

School Nurses
Rep. Julie Mayberry presented three 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 are shared with the 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 would modify requirements for nursing staff to include an RN supervisor in each district and specify a nurse-to-students ratio in accreditation standards. Committee members expressed concerns about job security for existing nurses and heard a variety of views on whether districts have funding to meet the staffing requirements of the bill. The bill failed on a roll call vote.

Teacher Workload
Sen. Alan Clark brought back SB366 to provide additional compensation to teachers who voluntarily teach more than the maximum number of students per day and/or teach during their conference period. The bill failed to pass out of committee earlier this week. Addressing concerns that teachers would be pressured to volunteer, two superintendents said that the bill would help teachers who have to work several jobs, that teachers are not pressured into other voluntary service such as summer school, and that teachers have recourse through the grievance process. The bill passed and moves on the House.

Minimum Salary Schedule
Rep. Bruce Cozart presented HB1623 to increase the minimum salary schedule for teachers by $878 per year in each of the next two school years. The bill is the recommendation of the Adequacy Committee in response to interim reports on a wide variety of adequacy issues. After discussion that ranged from the increases being too small to the difficulty for some districts to afford the increases, the bill passed.

Charter Facilities Funding
Sen. Jim Hendren presented SB789 to establish a facilities funding mechanism for public charter schools. A vigorous discussion ranged from the lack of “a level playing field” for charter school facilities funding to the absence of restrictions on the proposed funding to the longstanding tension associated with inequity among schools districts. The bill passed on a close vote.

State Control of School Districts
Rep. Clark Tucker presented HB1605 to ensure that a local community has access to information when its school district comes under state control. The bill specifies information that must be provided to legislators by the Department of Education or the State Board of Education when the state assumes control and requires that third parties contracted for school administration services are subject to provisions of FOIA. After a lengthy discussion, the bill failed in a roll call vote.

The House education committee meets again on Tuesday, March 24.

The Senate education committee meets tomorrow morning, March 20, at 9:00 a.m.

News From The Capitol: March 18, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 18, 2015 at 8:04 pm

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Among the bill topics brought to today’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Education, the PARCC test and charter school use of unused school building earned the most discussion.

PARCC
Teachers, counselors, parents, professors, and policymakers gave impassioned testimony to a standing-room-only crowd on HB1241 that would eliminate the PARCC test after this school year. PARCC opponents cited technical problems, student stress, “teaching to the test,” and delayed results among their complaints. PARCC advocates emphasized the importance of an assessment aligned with the current standards, the work of the state’s educator task force in assuring quality, and the difficulties associated with implementing any first-time assessment of this scale. After ninety minutes of discussion, a Do Pass motion failed to get a second, and the bill appeared dead. After hearing other bills and preparing to adjourn, committee members received an amendment to HB1241 to prohibit multi-year contracts for assessments and to ensure consideration of the governor’s council findings. The amendment was approved, and HB1241 passed as amended. Given the swiftness of the action, further refinement of HB1241 would not be surprising.

Unused School Buildings
Sen. Alan Clark presented SB847 to establish a reclamation process in the Academic Facilities Distress Program so that open enrollment public charter schools can access unused school buildings on the brink of decline. Several senators cited examples of boarded-up school buildings decaying from lack of use while nearby successful charter schools are meeting in churches or trailers. Representatives of Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA) and Arkansas School Boards Association (ASBA) spoke against the bill, citing too much authority given to the Director of the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation and the lack of mechanisms for local school board input and appeals. Clark and others pointed to the organizations’ knowledge and inaction in addressing the problem as the reason for the bill. The bill passed after a lengthy discussion.

The Senate Committee on Education meets again on Friday, March 20, at 9:00 a.m.


The House Committee on Education heard several K-12 related bills in its meeting on Tuesday, March 17.

Comprehensive Career Education
Sen. Diane English presented SB368 to bring together the state’s various workforce development and career education efforts into a streamlined, coordinated system. The bill proposes to overhaul the current board, establish a skills development fund to make competitive grants for high school training initiatives, and improve coordination among the assortment of state and federal funds and programs with workforce development aims. Legislators asked for assurance that the new board would represent the diversity of the state’s population and address areas with the highest rates of unemployment. The bill passed and moves to the House of Representatives.

Sen. English presented another career development bill, SB371, to allow school districts to use NSLA and certain other categorical funds to offer concurrent coursework in technical training for grades 8-12 in partnership with higher education. Such arrangements are allowed in current law for remedial education only. The bill passed without opposition.

Teacher Workload
Sen. Alan Clark presented SB366 to provide additional compensation to teachers who voluntarily teach more than the maximum number of students per day and/or teach during their conference period. The bill does not authorize exceeding the maximum class size. In opposing the bill, an Arkansas Education Association (AEA) spokesman said that teachers may be pressured to “volunteer” and that those in smaller schools with lower pay will be affected most. Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA) supported the bill, contending that teachers and administrators should have the flexibility to apply the provisions of SB366 as needed in their specific situations. Ultimately, the bill failed in a roll call vote.

PARCC Proctors
Sen. Clark also presented SB591 to allow certified teachers who may be retired and/or long-term substitutes to serve as proctors for statewide assessments. Clark explained that when he filed the bill, PARCC regulations barred anyone other than current staff to proctor assessments. The prohibition is no longer in effect, but Clark pursued the bill to avoid a similar conflict in the future. SB591 passed without opposition.

Time on the Bus
Rep. Reginald Murdock presented HB1640 that would require the Commission on Academic Facilities and Transportation to establish a maximum time for a one-way bus ride to/from school. HB1640 stemmed from the results of a transportation study commissioned by Murdock-sponsored legislation in 2013 and conducted by the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR). Legislators expressed concern about the toll on students of long bus rides and the cost to schools if establishing a maximum time led to more routes. The bill passed with several opposed. [Interim studies and other education research publications are available on the BLR website.]

Duplicative Reporting
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1600 to address situations in which school districts must submit data multiple times to agencies that have different formatting requirements. The bill provides that districts must submit or publish data as required by law, but that agencies must make their own formatting changes. 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 an aspect of student health and said 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.

Next Meeting
The House Committee on Education meets again on Thursday morning, March 19. Several bills on school nurse staffing and facilities are on the agenda.