Bills to require Arkansas' public high schools to offer at least one computer-science class and each public elementary school to teach cursive writing by the end of third grade sailed through the Arkansas Senate on Thursday and are on their way to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson plans to sign the computer-science legislation Tuesday and intends to further review the cursive-writing measure, Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis said.
By requiring high schools to teach computer-science classes, "Arkansas will become a national leader in computer-science education, and we'll be preparing a workforce that's sure to attract businesses and jobs to our state," Hutchinson said in a written statement.
"Of all the big-ticket items we've dealt with this legislative session, this relatively small-ticket item may have the greatest long-term impact," the governor said.
The Senate also approved a bill that exempts the University of Arkansas System's new online-only college from various state laws in order to keep its courses and degree programs at affordable tuition levels.
In a 32-0 vote, the Senate sent the governor House Bill 1183 by Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, to require each public high school to offer at least one computer-science course, starting in the 2015-16 school year.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, said Hutchinson and many lawmakers have "recognized the need for our high school curriculum to really catch up to the state of technology, and that's exactly what this bill achieves."
The computer-science course is required to be of high quality, meet or exceed the state Board of Education's curriculum standards and requirements, and be made available in "a traditional classroom setting, blended learning environment, online-based, or other technology-based format that is tailored to meet the needs of each participating student."
Online courses will be provided through Virtual Arkansas, online instruction provided through a partnership between the state Department of Education and the Arkansas Education Service Cooperative. The $2,500 per district fee to use Virtual Arkansas will be waived for the 2015-16 school year.
The bill also would require creation of the Computer Science and Technology in Public School Task Force, to consist of up to 15 members to recommend computer-science and technology standards and frameworks, as well as strategies to meet the anticipated computer-science and technology workforce needs in the state.
The task force would consist of up to seven appointees by the governor; six department heads or their designees appointed by the governor; and the presidents of the Arkansas Academy of Computing and the Arkansas chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, or their designees.
The task force would be required to file written reports on its recommendations with the governor, legislative leaders and the state Department of Education by Nov. 1 and Nov. 1, 2016. The task force would expire Dec. 31, 2016.
In a 30-1 vote, with Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, dissenting, the Senate sent the governor HB1044 by Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, to require each public elementary school to teach cursive writing as a component of English language arts by the end of third grade, starting in the 2015-16 school year.
The bill would require the state Board of Education to adopt rules to administer this requirement that "shall address the required curriculum components and appropriate grade levels to teach cursive writing."
Some school districts still teach cursive writing, while others do not.
Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, who is the son of Kim Hendren, told senators that "cursive writing was required under the Arkansas frameworks, and it was only after the adoption of the Common Core [standards] that that requirement was moot.
"I think this sets a precedent for the state to maintain control of this curriculum," he said.
Common Core is a set of math and literacy standards that have been adopted by most of the 50 states since 2010.
In a 25-2 vote, the Senate approved SB265 to exempt the UA System's new online-only college from 15 state laws that the bill says are not applicable to an online-only higher-education institution, to keep courses and degree programs offered by the eVersity "at affordable tuition levels while maintaining transparency and accountability."
Democratic Sens. David Burnett of Osceola and Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff voted against the bill.
The bill now goes to the House.
Under SB265 by Sen. Eddie Cheatham, D-Crossett, the General Assembly "acknowledges that the eVersity, an entirely online institution of higher education of the University of Arkansas System established by the actions of the board of trustees of the University of Arkansas and recognized by the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board," may offer certification and degree programs in a way that recognizes "a systemic change" from the traditional model for higher education.
Cheatham told senators that there are 350,000 Arkansans who have attended college but haven't yet earned degrees, and the eVersity will allow access to courses to help them complete their college educations.
More than 14,000 Arkansans are taking classes online through private online colleges from outside the state, he said.
But Burnett asked why the bill shouldn't apply to all of the state's colleges and universities.
Cheatham said SB265 is a UA System measure, and "we don't want to muddle this up with other schools."
Burnett said he'll probably file an identical bill for Arkansas Northeastern College because 20 percent of its students are taking online classes.
He said he had hoped SB265 would be changed to include other universities and colleges.
Cheatham said there are some differences between what Arkansas Northeastern College is doing and what the eVersity plans to do.
After that debate, Arkansas Northeastern College President James Shemwell said he asked Burnett to be prepared to file a bill for the college because SB265 "exempts the UA System from virtually every limitation and reporting requirement that govern each public college in Arkansas delivering online degrees, including Arkansas Northeastern College."
"For one higher-education entity to be exempt from rules and policies by which all others are bound has the potential to create an uneven playing field. We are merely considering our options at this point," Shemwell wrote in an email.
Metro on 02/20/2015
Print Headline: Senators pass computer bill, one on cursive