It is legislative session in Arkansas. Arkansas legislatures meet once every other year. Here are some of the education related bills currently working their way through the legislative process.
- HB1834 was introduced in early March to ban Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States from any publicly supported schools (including charters). The Zinn Education Project is now offering free copies of A People’s History to all teachers in Arkansas.
- SB328 was approved in early March to require all K-6 and Special Education licensure candidates to take a stand-alone test in skills related to the “science of reading” in addition to current tests mandated by the Department of Education for these candidates. While the original draft of the bill named a specific reading test (Massachusetts-based), the final bill simply authorizes the Department of Education to select a test meeting the drafted criteria. Additionally, a bill is being drafted which would require current K-6 and Special Education teachers to receive mandatory professional development also on the “science of reading.”
- HB1222 was filed in January to create options for education savings accounts parents can use to fund private school and other education costs. The bill also establishes a tax-credit scholarship to allow individuals and corporations to donate up to $10 million dollars annually to an established nonprofit organization that provides money to parents seeking a private home or school education for their children. This bill does not carry the title of a voucher program and is commonly referred to as “The Arkansas Parental Empowerment for Education Choice Act.”
- SB308 was introduced in February to grant charter schools the right to use public school facilities that are “unused or underutilized”. The bill also includes a provision allowing the state to classify districts as having academic facilities distress. This, in essence, would allow the state to transfer facilities to a private corporation. In the bill, charter schools and charter school operators are given first call on leasing these buildings.
- In January the Little Rock School District announced school closures effective at the end of this academic year. Education Commissioner Johnny Key has approved the closure of 2 elementary schools and one early childhood center due to declining enrollment and budget cuts.
- Two charter schools with a presence in Little Rock have been granted the right to expand and are currently doing so. One expansion project is being funded by a no-interest loan from the Walton Family Foundation.
The trends in these bills point to continued and increased regulation of both educational content in K-12 contexts as well as in teacher preparation programs. The state legislature continues to focus on reading and ELA as well as teacher professional development with a specific, targeted agenda on controlling the content and pedagogical choices teachers are empowered to make in their professional practices.
Additionally, that agenda includes a trend toward school choice and privatization.