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Arkansas lawmakers in the coming legislative session will consider pay raises for low-earning teachers, changes to the state's education funding formula and whether journalism should be a mandatory course offering in high school.

However, it remains unclear what shape school-choice legislation will take, although members of both parties expect controversial bills to enter the debate.

The House Education Committee chairman, Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, said he expects an unsuccessful bill from 2017, which would have created a pilot program to let parents use education savings accounts to cover private school tuition and other education costs, to return in some form in 2019.

"I don't know who's carrying it this time," Cozart said. "But I'm hearing that it's going to come back." The bill passed the Senate but failed, by one vote, in the House.

Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, was Senate Bill 746's primary backer in the House. Asked this week about the prospect of the bill returning, Dotson was coy.

"I'm sure we'll have something school-choice-wise," Dotson said. "What the details are? I'm not sure yet."

The General Assembly will convene for its biennial regular session on Jan. 14 to consider bills. It's likely to vote on a plan backed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the House and Senate education committees to raise the minimum salary for teachers of all levels of experience throughout the salary schedule.

The governor has proposed raising the minimum teacher salary -- currently $31,800 -- by about $1,000 a year over the next four years to $36,000. His office expects the pay boosts to cost about $60 million a year.

The education committees, meeting jointly, included the first two years of salary increases in their report on educational adequacy, which addresses funding needs of schools. Cozart expects the recommendations to sail through the Legislature without a problem.

Cozart said he's working on a bill that would change the way Arkansas funds public school transportation. Those costs are one of several factors lawmakers consider when calculating the base per-student funding formula for public school districts every two years.

However, Cozart said there is great disparity in transportation costs across school districts in the state. Typically, rural districts must spend a much higher percentage of their funds on transportation when compared with more urban districts.

Cozart is proposing funding education on an as-needed basis rather than as part of the base per-pupil funding formula.

"That will fund transportation in a way where each district will get exactly what they need," he said.

Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, a prominent Democrat on the Education Committee, said she plans to continue "pushing more transparency among charter schools." A proposal on the issue died in 2017.

She also said she plans to revive a bill to eliminate corporal punishment in Arkansas schools, "much to the chagrin of everyone." That bill died in committee in 2017 with Elliott as the only "yes" vote.

The school-choice bill, sponsored by Dodson and Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, in the last regular session would have created education saving accounts, worth about $6,700 annually. Parents would decide how to spend the money, but the payments would be made by nonprofit groups to education providers.

The accounts would be funded by individuals and corporations diverting income-tax dollars to the nonprofit groups in exchange for state income tax credits.

Private school tuition, textbooks, college testing, summer programs, speech pathology, transportation and school uniforms would have been allowable costs.

Proponents of the bill said it would allow families to tailor students' education around specific needs. Opponents criticized the proposal for diverting money away from public schools.

Hutchinson said in 2018 he would support the measure if it's introduced again in 2019.

Several other education-related bills have already been filed during the Legislature's pre-filing period:

• House Bill 1003 by Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, would require additional anti-bullying efforts in public schools.

• House Bill 1007 by Dodson would allow school districts to consider out-of-state teaching experience when determining a newly hired teacher's salary.

• House Bill 1014 by Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, would require public schools to provide bleeding-control training to high school students.

• House Bill 1015 by Mayberry would require high schools to offer journalism classes.

Metro on 01/01/2019

Print Headline: School-choice bill could return in Legislature


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Archived Comments

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    January 1, 2019 at 5 a.m.

    Looks good.

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    January 1, 2019 at 3:57 p.m.

    with America's OBESITY epidemic wouldn't it be wiser to require a class in NUTRITION instead of journalism? as a baby boomer when I was in school journalism was an elective. If we are suppose to be preparing our youth for the working world and life on their own. can't see how money spent on teaching journalism would rank very high. don't get me wrong I once made a good living off journalism. If you can read, write and explain, when where, how and possibly why then you have the hallmark of the complete course. and isn't that taught during the five paragraph essay ? great news for teacher raises but in comparison how much are coaches paid ?

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    January 1, 2019 at 9 p.m.

    oboxer the obesity epidemic is hype compared to the drugs etc, its a cover all for the heart problems we will see increases of, not because they were fat, but because of other things like certain "medicines".
    As for the why is journalism necessary? Well as so many people learn differently consider journalism to be the opposite side of the reading comprehension coin. learning to tell and respect a true account.
    Cursive is the one we have to get rid of, detractors who argue the benefits of cursive I can argue that we would be better served to teach the true origins of the letter system. the "alpha - bet" is simply code without the meaning, bring back the meaning of the letters as their true psychological formats. Yes teach quantum physics to children it will be fun. The problem is we want to put these children in boxes and group them close together. Nothing grows like that. They said those who cant do teach, well thats simply a condemnation of both parties.