University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Posts Tagged ‘AR Legislature’

News From The Capitol: March 12, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 12, 2015 at 8:28 pm

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The House Committee on Education met twice today and heard bills on school funding, school safety, employee health insurance, education commissioner qualifications, district property acquisition, and athletic competition between home school and public school teams.

School Funding

Rep. Bruce Cozart presented HB1663 containing public school funding amounts as recommended by the education adequacy committee for the coming biennium. The bill, which also includes supplemental funding for transportation, passed without opposition.

School Safety

Rep. Scott Baltz presented HB1653 to create the 2015 School Safety Act. The bill modifies current school safety policy by requiring 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 a teacher to activate the panic button with a smartphone. The bill passed and moves on to the House floor. (If the legislation passes, it is still subject to appropriation and funding.)

Employee Health Insurance

Sen. Jim Hendren presented SB535 to require school districts to increase their contribution to employee health insurance by the same percentage as a base salary increase. A change in the contribution rate would take effect in the plan year following the salary increase. Some exceptions are specified in the bill, which passed and moves to the House floor.

Education Commissioner

Rep. Bruce Cozart presented SB681 to modify the qualifications for state education commissioner. Current law specifies the commissioner must be a licensed teacher with a master’s degree and ten years of teaching/administrative experience. SB681 provides those qualifications must be held by the commissioner or deputy commissioner. The committee discussed concerns about making an exception for a key leadership position versus taking an opportunity to be innovative. The bill passed after considerable deliberation.

School District Property Acquisition

Rep. Kim Hendren brought back HB1074 that would allow a school board to acquire property within the boundaries of another school district if the arrangement is agreeable to both districts. The bill was amended so that a bequest or gift of property located within the boundaries of another district could be accepted, but a school structure could not be built on the property unless mutually agreeable. The bill passed and moves on to the House of Representatives.

Athletic Competition

Sen. Jim Hendren presented SB331 to require the Arkansas Activities Association to make rules allowing athletic competition between home school leagues and public school team that want to play each other. Current AAA policy forbids such competition. The bill passed and moves to the House floor.

The Senate education committee will meet next week on Monday and Wednesday; the House education committee meets on Tuesday and Thursday.

 

 

News From The Capitol: March 11, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 12, 2015 at 6:16 am

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

Workforce Development

Sen. Jane English presented SB368, one of several bills this session to deal with training students for careers in technical fields. SB368 would overhaul the state’s various workforce development and career education efforts in favor of a more streamlined, coordinated system. Industry representatives described the lack of collaboration among technical career stakeholders and the skills gap that leaves good jobs unfilled for lack of technically prepared applicants. Several senators observed that secondary schools’ focus on four-year degrees has left students with other aspirations without support, and that attitudes toward technical careers must change. The bill passed.

Sen. Bobby Pierce presented SB371, which would allow school districts to partner with state-supported providers of technical education for expanded course offerings and to use NSLA funds for technical education opportunities. This bill also passed.

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 preparation period. The bill does not authorize exceeding the maximum class size. The bill passed out of committee without opposition.

Lottery Scholarships

Sen. Jake Files presented SB895 to limit eligibility for lottery scholarships to students whose families earn less than $150,000 annually. Discussion centered on the need to pare eligibility to maintain solvency versus the intent of the program to benefit everyone. The bill failed in a close vote.

Facilities Funding

Sen. Jim Hendren presented SB789 to establish a facilities funding program for open enrollment public charter schools. The bill specifies the criteria a school must meet to apply for funding and how the funding could be used. The Commission for Arkansas Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation would be responsible for developing program rules. Opponents of SB789, including the Arkansas School Boards Association and Arkansas Association for Educational Administrators, pointed to the absence of a priority basis for funding in the bill and the lack of a facilities needs assessment for charter schools. Leaders of the KIPP and e-Stem charter schools explained their challenges in acquiring use of adequate facilities. After a spirited discussion, the bill passed.

News From The Capitol: March 10, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 10, 2015 at 5:32 pm

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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.

Legislative Days

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.

Sick Leave

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.

School Choice

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.

Governor’s Scholars

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.

News From The Capitol: March 5, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 5, 2015 at 6:28 pm

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It was a busy day at the Capitol!  Both the House and Senate Committees on Education met today.

The House Committee on Education voted Do Pass recommendations on six bills and a resolution in this morning’s meeting.

Home School Testing

Rep. Nate Bell presented HB1381 to repeal a provision that requires achievement testing for home schooled students. Bell said the $250,000 annual expense for testing process is wasted, because no data are reported to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). Committee members discussed whether the state’s obligation for education is met without a testing requirement. The bill passed and moves on to the House of Representatives.

School Recognition

Sen. Missy Irvin presented SB342 to amend the School Recognition and Reward Program. The bill provides for performance-based funding of $100 per student for schools in the top 5% in student performance and $50 per student for schools in the remainder of the top 10%. The bill also provides for $100 per student for schools in the top 5% in academic growth and $50 per student in the remainder of the top 10%. Currently, the program rewards are for student performance and academic growth combined. The bill has already passed the full Senate and now moves to the House.

Employment and Earnings Outcomes

Sen. Alan Clark presented SB211 that makes the Department of Workforce Services responsible for a report of employment and earnings of graduates from degree and certificate programs of state supported higher education institutions. Two types of reports would be produced: one for freshmen entering two- and four-year institutions and another for public school students in grades 7-12. The purpose of the bill is the help students and their families make informed decisions about fields of study and careers. The bill passed without opposition.

Accreditation Reviews

Rep. Greg Leding presented HB1515 to require an accreditation review panel to conduct at least one open forum during the on-campus accreditation review process for public schools and school districts. The bill passed without opposition.

Charter School Lottery

Rep. Leding also introduced HB1516 to require transparency in public charter school lotteries. Leding emphasized he believes lotteries are being conducted in good faith, and the bill is meant to ease any concerns of parents. This bill also passed without opposition.

School District Property Acquisition

Rep. Kim Hendren introduced HB1074 that would allow a school board to acquire property within the boundaries of another school district only if the arrangement is agreeable to both districts. The bill moves on to the House of Representatives.

School Bus Advertising

Rep. Dan Douglas 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 revenue generated from advertising could be used for transportation purposes only. After a lively discussion of issues of propriety and free speech, the bill passed.

Take your Legislator to School

Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented a concurrent resolution, HCR1008, to designate September as “Take your Legislator to School Month.” Douglas said she collaborated with 2014 Teacher of the Year Jonathan Crossley to develop the resolution as a way to promote positive relationships among policymakers and the school officials and students in their legislative districts. The resolution passed.

 

Today the Senate Committee on Education passed six bills that move to the full Senate for consideration:

SB681 to establish the qualifications for state education commissioner and deputy commissioner;

SB455 to allow part-time traditional students to receive the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship;

SB535 to require school districts to increase their contribution to employee health insurance by the same percentage as a base salary increase;

SB591 to allow long-term substitute teachers and retired teachers to serve as proctors for statewide assessments;

SB623 to clarify the training requirements for school board members pertaining to interpreting audit reports; and

SB634 to amend the act governing registered volunteers in public schools as it relates to athletic programs in grades 7-12.

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.

News From The Capitol: February 26, 2015

In AR Legislature on February 26, 2015 at 4:31 pm

 

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This morning the House Committee on Education recommended Do Pass on a resolution to recognize teachers with national board certifications and bill that would provide a waiver from consolidation.

Teacher Recognition

Rep. Clark Tucker presented HR1025 that would honor Arkansas teachers who have achieved National Board Certification. The resolution moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. Board certified teachers will be at the state capitol on Monday, March 2.

School Consolidation

Rep. Bruce Cozart presented HB1263 that would provide a waiver from consolidation for a school district with fewer than 350 students that is not in fiscal, academic, or facilities distress. The bill would not affect already-consolidated schools. Several representatives expressed concern that schools with fewer than 350 students may not meet the court-mandated requirements for adequacy. Arkansas Education Association Executive Director Rich Nagel spoke against HB1263, saying that the outcome of pending legislation on accreditation and minimum standards may affect this bill. Renee Carr, Executive Director of the Rural Community Alliance, spoke in favor of HB1263 and said that students and families of consolidated schools “have not been well served.” Former representative Randy Alexander also spoke for the bill, highlighting research findings that he said do not support consolidation’s supposed benefits of academic achievement and cost efficiency. After lengthy and vigorous discussion, the committee voted to recommend Do Pass, and HB1263 moves to the full House.

Several K-12 related bills moved through the Senate today.

School Choice

The Senate passed SB179 that would allow a K-12 student to attend school in a nonresident district. The bill also stipulates that districts declaring exemption because of desegregation orders must provide a copy of the federal order to the Arkansas Department of Education. SB179 moves to the House Committee on Education.

Make-up School Days

The Senate passed HB1313 that would allow schools to make up missed time in 60-minute increments. Districts would still have to submit a plan to ADE for approval. Now awaiting the signature of Gov. Hutchinson, this legislation has an emergency clause that would apply its provisions to the current school year.

Leadership Training

The Senate passed HB1382 that would permit the Arkansas Leadership Academy (ALA) to form partnerships with public or private entities, such as corporations or local chambers of commerce, to enhance leadership development opportunities for public school stakeholders. This bill also moves on to the governor’s office for approval.

Live Streaming

We recently reported in error that both the House and Senate education committees provide live video streaming of their meetings. In fact, only the House of Representatives offers live video streaming of committee meetings. The House also provides live video streaming of its sessions; Senate sessions are  live streamed in audio. We apologize for the error.

 

News From The Capitol: February 24, 2015

In AR Legislature on February 24, 2015 at 2:07 pm

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The House Committee on Education met this morning and heard bills on the use of virtual meeting attendance by school board members and on student expression of religious beliefs in public schools.

School Board Meetings

Rep. Ron McNair presented HB 1419 that would allow school boards to adopt a meeting attendance policy permitting a member to participate remotely, to count towards a quorum, and to vote. McNair gave an example that a board may need to meet the week school starts to approve a hiring decision but lacks a quorum because members are out of town. Representatives expressed concern that the bill does not specify any limitations on how often a member can participate remotely, making a policy intended for exceptions to enable a new norm. McNair pulled the bill to make changes addressing committee members’ concerns.

Student Religious Expression

Rep. Justin Harris introduced HB 1273 that would create more uniformity in the way schools address issues of religious expression by students. Harris offered instances in which students have been prohibited from communicating their “deeply held religious beliefs” through homework assignments, art projects, jewelry or clothing. Harris said the bill is consistent with federal law and case law on student freedom of expression. After a lengthy discussion of the need for additional policy and the possibilities for unintended consequences, the bill failed.

Upcoming Meetings

The Senate Committee on Education meets on Wednesday and the House education committee meets again on Thursday. House and Senate sessions and committee meetings are streamed live and also recorded for later viewing. Follow the links on the home pages of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

News From The Capitol: February 19, 2015

In AR Legislature on February 19, 2015 at 12:55 pm

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Arkansas Leadership Academy

The House Committee on Education met this morning and recommended Do Pass on HB1382 that would allow the Arkansas Leadership Academy (ALA) to form partnerships with public or private entities to enhance leadership development opportunities for public school stakeholders. Rep. Bill Gossage presented the bill, and ALA Director David Cook explained that collaborating with other organizations’ leadership programs, such as those of local chambers of commerce, allows ALA to enrich offerings to its participants. HB1382 moves on for consideration by the House of Representatives.

 

New Laws on College Scholarships and Professional Development

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a provision that allows recipients of awards from the Arkansas Governor’s Scholars Programs to postpone their higher education pursuit for up to 24 months to participate in service opportunities or for family emergencies. Several state scholarship programs already included a deferral measure. HB1011 is now Act 21.

Gov. Hutchinson also signed SB30, now Act 44, that changes the requirement for 10 professional development (PD) days for teachers to “no less than six days.” The act aligns the PD requirement with available funding but allows school districts to exceed the requirement.

 

Live Streaming

House and Senate sessions and committee meetings are streamed live and recorded. To see the process in action or to follow your bills of interest, follow the links on the home pages of the House of Representatives or the Senate. The meeting schedule is available on the General Assembly home page. Committee agendas are published online, but note that each item on the agenda may not be covered in a given meeting.

News From The Capitol: February 18, 2015

In AR Legislature on February 18, 2015 at 2:23 pm

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This morning the Senate Committee on Education approved bills on offering a computer science course in high school and requiring cursive writing instruction by the end of third grade.

Computer Science

Sen. Missy Irvin presented HB1183 that would require high schools to offer a course in computer science. The requirement to offer the course would not increase the number of credits needed for graduation nor replace other courses. The bill also creates a task force to develop a variety of ways that schools can meet the requirement. One computer science course will be offered free for one year to any school via Virtual Arkansas.

Cursive Writing

Sen. Jim Hendren presented HB1044 that would require instruction in cursive writing by the end of third grade. Hendren showed a copy of the Declaration of Independence and said students should be able to read this important document that is written and signed in cursive. Noting that cursive writing instruction is optional under Common Core, Hendren said that requiring cursive is an example of how schools can adapt those standards to their needs.

Both bills have passed the House of Representatives and now move to the Senate.

 

News From The Capitol: February 17, 2015

In AR Legislature on February 17, 2015 at 3:23 pm

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This morning the House Committee on Education gave a Do Pass recommendation to a bill that would give districts more flexibility in making up missed school days.

School Make-up Days
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1313 that would allow schools to make up missed time in 60-minute increments. Douglas noted the difficulty of providing quality instruction during make-up days added to the end of the school year. She said HB1313 would let schools make up hours during the term, when instructional time is more beneficial. Districts would still have to submit a plan to ADE for approval. Richard Abernathy, Executive Director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, spoke in favor of the bill and gave the example of a flooded building that caused one campus to close but did not affect other campuses in the district. Under HB1313, the one campus could make up time by adding hours to the beginning or ending of a school day, and all the schools in the district could still end the year at the same time. The bill now moves to the floor of the House.

Another bill that pertains to inclement weather, SB180, would give superintendents up to five school days per year either to delay start time or to dismiss school early without losing a credited school day. SB180 passed in the Senate and awaits consideration by the House of Representatives.

Both bills have emergency clauses that allow them to take effect immediately if they become law, so that these policy changes would apply to this school year.