University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Posts Tagged ‘Ark-Centric News’

Legislation Related to Retirement

In AR Legislature on May 20, 2011 at 3:11 pm

We would like to continue the post-legislative coverage of the 88th General Assembly’s legislation that will have an impact on education in Arkansas. There were quite a few bills that pertained to the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. These bills are for the most part pretty specific and often quite technical. Because of that, we thought it would be a good idea to direct you to the expert on Arkansas Teacher Retirement rather than try to summarize all of these bills.

George Hopkins, executive director of ARTRS, did a great job providing summaries to teachers and leaders throughout the session providing Director Updates to constituents about legislation that would impact the teacher retirement systems. Furthermore, ARTRS has provided a comprehensive summary of each of the bills passed into law on their website. 

If this is an area in which you are especially interested, we strongly recommend following ARTRS on twitter or subscribing to the email list that provides Director Updates to your inbox.

State Board Meeting

In The View from the OEP on May 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Monday, May 16, 2011 the State Board of Education met for their monthly meeting. The full day meeting was packed with information and at times, a little excitement. One of the most pleasant parts of the meeting was the Recognition of Master Principal Awardees by the Arkansas Leadership Academy. These are the principals that have completed the Master Principal Program. At the beginning of the meeting, a slew of schools requested waiver days for weather-related school closings. Now, if you are thinking that this is an unusual time of year for these
waivers to be requested, you’re right on track. But it is also unusual for Arkansas to endure historic flooding and tornadoes as several parts of the states experienced in April. Not every request made was approved. Most of the districts were awarded one day, while a few were awarded two, and Vilonia was awarded four days.

An existing charter school in Little Rock asked for a few amendments to their charter including a different management structure, increased class size, and expansion of grades served. Two of the three of these amendments were granted. The management structure was not approved. If the school would like to try to alter the management structure again, the administration will have to re-apply to the State Board with more information regarding the proposed management structure.

An unprecedented case went before the board to alter school boundary lines between Horatio and Foreman. Foreman requested to annex the area which previously served the Winthrop School District (now consolidated with Horatio). A slim majority of the students from the area previously considered Winthrop School District are enrolled in the Foreman School District through the school choice program. Horatio opposed the request for annexation, citing potential fiscal problems. The annexation request was unanimously denied.

Three schools went before the state board after being placed on the fiscal distress list. North Little Rock School District did not attempt to appeal the placement. Earle School District appealed the classification of fiscal distress. After a complex discussion, the State Board voted to deny the appeal and placed the district under fiscal distress. Pulaski County Special School District also filed a letter of appeal after being classified of fiscal distress.

On another topic, the OEP wishes all students and educators good luck as you have finished the annual testing cycle, you are working hard to finish the year on a high note, and you are getting ready to congratulate the high school graduates of 2011 across the state of Arkansas!

Safety First

In AR Legislature on April 27, 2011 at 6:09 pm

And we are back with a review of the hundreds of bills signed into law by your legislators this last legislative session. Today, we are going to talk a little about schools…school safety to be specific.

Several laws were passed by the 88th General Assembly to keep our little tikes safe coming and going to school, and all day while there. Here they are:

  • Act 37 prohibits wireless telephone use in school zones and highway work zones. Yes, that’s what we said. No more cell phones in school zones when kiddos are present.
  • Under Act 613, principals and their designees are prevented from providing notification to parents of law enforcement involvement during the course of an investigation of suspected child maltreatment if the alleged offender is a parent, guardian, custodian, or person standing in loco parentis.
  • Act 100 provides for public notification of sex offenders registered in another state once the registered offender moves into Arkansas, even before the offender has completed the registration process in Arkansas.
  • Act 516  is a bill that makes technical corrections concerning criminal background checks for healthcare providers, as well as transferability of criminal records checks and determination letters among various operational sections of a single service provider. The goal here is to develop a more efficient process of ensuring our kiddos are with safe people all day
  • Act 570 contains language that imposes stiff penalties for committing certain crimes within 1000 feet of a school
  • The goal of Act 598 is to ensure that missing child information will be entered into the missing persons information clearinghouse
  • The Jason Flatt Act will require 2 hours mandatory in-service PD once every five years for licensed personnel in teen suicide awareness and prevention
  • HB 772, Jonathan’s Law, rose in response to the tragedy that occurred earlier this year at an elementary school in Arkansas, when a child died from a playground accident. The law will establish safety standards for anchoring soccer goals on playgrounds and other recreation areas.
For fear that this is becoming an essay instead of a blog post, we are going to stop here and come back with part 2 in our next legislative post. Good luck weathering these storms!

Spend Your Time Wisely

In AR Legislature on April 25, 2011 at 8:11 am

As promised, we are going to provide a more in-depth view of the education legislation that resulted from the 88th General Assembly 2011 session. Today, we are going to talk about school-related bills that specifically affect how time is spent, or that allow for a little extra time.

Extended School Year Legislation

First of all, you may remember that, at the OEP conference in November 2010, Richard Abernathy floated the idea of extending the school year. A bill was actually introduced this session by Senator David Johnson to allow additional funding for certain high-need schools to do just that. The bill didn’t go anywhere this time around, but the OEP research staff did provide some evidence in support of Senator Johnson’s billWhile the bill itself did not go anywhere, the concept of extended learning time made a little step forward with a bill sponsored by Senator Johnny Key and Representative Eddie Cheatham to study the advantages and disadvantages of an extended school year.

A few other time-centered laws include:

HB 1224, sponsored by Representative Stewart, allows for an extension of the law concerning common spring break for public schools. This one was signed into law as Act Number 46. It looks like universities, colleges, and public schools students and families will continue to have a common spring break.

HB 1099, now Act 65, sponsored by Representative Homer Lenderman, gives public schools a little more flexibility in start dates. This is especially beneficial for schools (such as those in the northern part of the state) that typically use their spring break  making up for missed snow days. By starting a little earlier, these schools can build a little extra padding in their school year on the front end, before testing in April, instead of on spring break or in the summer.

Schools won’t bear all the responsibility for ensuring kids spend more time there. Representative McLean sponsored HB 1995  that will be a first step in addressing excessive absences. First of all, it requires schools to track school absences more effectively by identifying which type of absences are actually excusable, and ensuring that there will be consequences for students with excessive absences. The act requires school districts to develop strategies for promoting maximum student attendance as part of a 6-year education plan. It even gives schools authorization to use alternative classrooms instead of school suspension and send students with excessive absences and their parents to a conference with a community truancy board. If a student exceeds the number of allowable absences, and has not made special arrangements with the district administration, the district must notify the prosecuting authority and community truancy board, if one has been created. The parent or guardian is subject to a civil penalty through a FINS (Family in need of services)  action that does not exceed $500.00 plus the cost of courts and any reasonable fees assessed by the court.

Legislative Recaps … Education-style

In AR Legislature on April 19, 2011 at 11:09 am

Not to overdo it, but with over 2K bills filed at the Arkansas legislature and 153 education bills alone signed into law, we felt it might be beneficial to spend some time taking a closer look at some of these bills. So over the next few weeks, we want to more thoroughly examine some of the education bills that were passed into law, and a few that were not.

We are going to examine the bills categorically, using the same categories listed by the ADE at their legislative tracking site. These categories include: Arkansas Teacher Retirement Systems, Title 6 Bills, Teachers, Public Schools, K-12 Students, and the Department of Education. We’ll also add a category for school funding and for charters and choice.

But before we get going with the policy analysis (next week), we wanted to send out a few links to some of the other edu-groups legislative recaps.

  • Richard Abernathy and the AAEA went all 21st Century with its weekly legislative podcasts throughout the session. You can find the AAEA final Legislative Recap here. 
  • The AEA has a plethora of information available on public school legislation that can be found here.
  • The Arkansas School Boards Association has a neat bill tracker with detailed information on each of its bills, including its stance on the various bills found on its website. 
Keep an eye on this space next week for the OEP legislative recap!

On the Agenda this Week

In AR Legislature on March 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm

The legislative session is coming to a close with pages of bills on both the House and the Senate Ed Committee Agenda. Quite a few items of interest were covered this week.

School Funding

On Tuesday, the House Ed Committee looked at HB 1435, “To allow a school district to keep any excess uniform rate of tax collection revenues that remain after fully funding student foundation funding for the school district from the Uniform Rate of Tax Collection.” You may recall hearing in the news earlier this year about the four districts that had to pay back the state as a result of being overpaid. It looks like Representatives from these districts are supporting a law that they can keep all of the funding from the first 25 mills, even if it exceeds the per pupil foundation funding amount. At this point, that is not how the law reads. (Edited March 27, 2011; at this point, this issue is still being debated.)

We’ll keep you posted as we hear more.

UPDATE: The bill was defeated in Committee on Tuesday.

Teacher Certification and Reciprocity

You may recall our earlier post on changes in Teacher Licensure. Before being presented to the Senate, there were some amendments made that provided slightly less of an open door for non-certified teachers that do not participate in the Teach for America program. These were only slight changes to the bill. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate Ed Committee. The ADE did not speak against it this time.

School Choice

SB 303, a bill that would make amendments to the School Choice Law, passed both the Senate Ed Committee and Senate Chamber yesterday. The bill removed the financial responsibility for transporting kids who choose to attend a higher performing school from the state to the transferring district. Before you get too alarmed, realize this bill only applies to schools that are performing at Level 1 in the state. There are only 7 of these in the state, and according to Dr. Kimbrell and Scott Smith of APSRC (both spoke in favor of the bill), all are ALEs. See our policy brief on Act 35 posted earlier this week for more information on this topic.

School Transportation

On Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill  that allowed transportation funding to be determined on number of miles on the bus route, rather than the ADM numbers. If passed in the house and in both chambers, this bill will greatly benefit rural schools. Currently schools are funded approximately $275 and some change per student. This is great for the district in the state that spends about $90 per student. However, as Bill Abernathy testified, there is a district in the state that spends $900+ per student. The intent of this bill is to provide more equitable and adequate funding for transportation for rural districts.

Of course, the bill did not come without opposition. Scott Richardson, from the Attorney General’s office, testified that the bill could be considered unconstitutional. There is always a concern in Arkansas of another lawsuit on the basis of adequacy.

The Senate agreed to keep the bill from the Senate Chamber until a similar bill, meant to address concerns for rural transportation costs, runs through the house. It is clear that changes need to be made, however, it is not yet clear how they will address these transportation issues.

Arkansas Teacher Licensure and Reciprocity Laws

In AR Legislature on March 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm

On Thursday, the House Committee on Education considered and passed a bill that would amend Arkansas’ Teacher licensure and reciprocity laws. There are a substantial changes that would occur if this bill, sponsored by Representative Hobbs,  were passed. Here are a few:

  • First of all, the bill enables teachers licensed in other states to become teachers in Arkansas much more easily.
  • It also grants Teach for America corp members a license after their two year service with TFA without additional requirements through the Non-Traditional Licensure Program.
  • It opens up an easier method for teachers with three years of experience in specific content areas to undergo a non-traditional licensure program.

Proponents of this bill argue that these changes would bring Arkansas to a level of openness in teacher licensure that already exists in many other states.

From our angle viewing the webcast, the hearing before the House Committee was a bit controversial. Opponents of the bill who testified included Dr. Kimbrell of the Department of Education and several Deans of various Colleges of Education around the state of Arkansas (in which most current teachers are trained).  Dr. Kimbrell expressed support of the changes as they related to TFA, but had concerns that the bill would not allow for enough quality from the Department. 

On the flip side, individuals who spoke on behalf of the bill included Richard Abernathy, Executive Director of the AAEA, Scott Shirey, KIPP Delta, and Joyce Vault, Arkansas’ Superintendent of the Year.  Richard Abernathy testified that the amendments in the bill would enable Superintendents to more freedom in who they hire, and thus allow them to put the most qualified teachers in the classroom. Scott Shirey’s discussed one of his teachers who grew up in the Delta, graduated from UAPB, and wanted to give back to his community by teaching (despite the fact that he did not have a degree in education).  After failing to secure a job in numerous traditional traditional public schools, he was hired by KIPP Delta due to its waivers, and has since done a wonderful job. Likewise, Joyce Vault testified to the quality of teaching these non-traditional students bring to her school district.

The bill passed with some opposition on a voice vote. It now moves on through the system. We will keep you posted on its status.

We would be interested in hearing your comments on removing the barriers to licensure in Arkansas.

Charter Schools Take the News this Week

In AR Legislature on March 17, 2011 at 9:03 am

The time remaining for this legislative session is dwindling away. Over five hundred bills were filed last Monday-the deadline for bill-filing this session. The session is set to end on April 1. Even with d-day approaching, each committee meeting seems to move slowly with very few bills running through…

The big education news of the week includes the shutting down of a Little Rock Charter School by the State Board. There has been plenty of news coverage on this. For those who missed the meeting here is a brief summary.  The school is in financial trouble. The best case scenario is that the school would have been $250,000-$350,000 in the red by the end of the year and the school did not prevent a good strategy to get out of this mess. The school had already borrowed money for a payroll that occurred two weeks ago, and needed additional money to make payroll on Tuesday.

On the other hand, several parents spoke up for the school and the positive impact it was having on their children. School leaders also spoke of some positive academic impacts based on interim student test scores, but this information was not provided clearly to the board.

In the end, it was a disappointing situation for all involved–and mostly for the very young student who attended the meeting in his sharp-looking school blazer. It seems clear that the school had management problems, and in fact, reports are now coming out that indicate the mismanagement may have been more insidious than originally suggested. Without doubt, the consequences provided by the board were certainly strict and swift. The UCPC school was to close immediately — as in, “kids, don’t come to school tomorrow!”.

The bargain charters make with the state is autonomy in exchange for increased accountability. It is important that school leaders realize this responsibility when they make that bargain. Unfortunately, the children are the victims in this lose/lose scenario.  Hopefully, this will cause the ADE to look into their procedures regarding how they allocate money to charters (they initially overpay when actual enrollment is unknown and then take the money back on October 1 when actual enrollment is confirmed if that number is less than expected).

We’ve also observed what seems to be a more sympathetic tone expressed by the media on this issue this week. Perhaps this reflects a changing attitude on charter schools? In any case, this situation will likely continue to garner the public’s attention. Perhaps, one of the few good things that could come out of this situation would be a brighter light shining on the process used by the State Board of approving and reviewing charters.

In addition to the action of the State Board on charter schools, the General Assembly has also been thinking about charters.  Other news in charter-dom is the passage of a bill in the Senate that would essentially remove the cap for charters in Arkansas.

We will continue to keep a close eye on these meetings and let you know what we see.  We expect the level of activity to increase as we near the session’s end.

From the Capitol: AR Legislative Update 3/11/11

In AR Legislature on March 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm

March 7th was the final day for Arkansas legislators to file a bill in the current legislative session. By the end of the day, reports from the capitol were saying that more than 500 bills had been filed by the deadline (for a grand total of 2,361 bills filed by the 2011 Arkansas General Assembly). We checked the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) Bill Tracker Website and found that there are currently 105 education related bills (or resolutions) still being considered for this session (55 in the House, and 50 in the Senate). Needless to say, our elected officials have their work cut out for them down at the capitol.

Two interesting bills were referred out of committee this week. First, Senator Bruce Holland’s (R-Greenwood) bill to establish a school superintendent mentoring program (SB344) which charges the ADE to develop and sponsor a mentoring program required for first year superintendents. The program will cover curriculum and instruction, ethics, facilities, human resources, leadership, school funding, and technology. If passed by the legislature, the training topics in this new mentoring program would be folded into existing training that is currently required of for first-year superintendents.

Second, referred out of the House Education Committee this week, was a bill filed by Rep. Danny Altes (R-Forth Smith) to allow school districts to adopt curriculum standards for an academic study of the Bible (HB1032). To quell concerns that it would give teachers a means to use the classroom as a pulpit, Rep. Altes emphasized that the curriculum would discourage teachers of this class to do just that. The bill does not address other religious books such as the Quran or the Torah.  According to the bill, this elective course will focus on the Bible’s influence on literature, music, and politics.

With all the legislation before the education committees, things could get interesting rather quickly at the capitol in the coming days. What would you like our legislators to address? Do you think that we need a mentoring program for first year superintendents? What about in year two and/or three…or beyond? Do you think that teachers of the Bible Elective course can/will avoid using the class as a pulpit?

Let us know what you think and leave us a comment below.

Policy News from Little Rock

In AR Legislature on January 26, 2011 at 3:51 pm

If you haven’t already checked out the ADE’s efforts to keep those interested in ed policy up-to-date on the legislative session, we highly recommend you do so. Their web page provides a lot of information about legislative bills and meetings that affect education.

The House Education Committee is meeting Thursday to discuss a few things: a bill to prevent non-citizens from being eligible for in-state tuition (sort of the opposite of the DREAM act); flexibility in start dates; a bill to increase the public’s access to school district reports; a new mentoring program for superintendents; virtual schools in Arkansas; and a few bills about curriculum here and here. Much of this agenda is on the deferred agenda. We will keep you posted if anything else happens.

In other interesting news: