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story.lead_photo.caption In this photo Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, walks to the podium on the House floor to present a bill. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The Arkansas House narrowly passed a measure Thursday that would require public schools to allow home-schooled students to enroll in individual classes.

House Bill 1419 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, passed 55-27 with lawmakers from both parties dissenting.

Lowery's legislation would require public school districts to develop policies for accepting home-schooled and private-school students into individual classes, but HB1419 doesn't set what requirements those policies might entail.

HB1419 would expand the concept laid out in Act 173 of 2017, which allowed home-schooled and private-school students to attend classes in their local school districts, Lowery said.

"What has happened, though, in those two years -- and I'm sure it's not the first time you've heard that you've passed legislation and school districts come up with their own reasons to not follow through on the law -- some school districts have denied that right subjectively, not with any set policy," Lowery said. "All this bill does is it mandates that school districts will adopt a policy, but the policy can contain any number of things."

There are about 20,000 home-schooled students in Arkansas, according to the state Department of Education, and about 270 of them are enrolled in classes across 72 school districts in Arkansas. The state has 238 public school districts.

Research by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Office for Education Policy suggested that more home-schoolers might enroll in their local public schools if Act 173 was more prominently promoted. The study also found a lack of participation in the first year of the program from some of the state's largest districts, including Springdale, Bentonville, Cabot, Jonesboro, North Little Rock and Fort Smith.

Matthew H. Lee, a UA grad student who was a research assistant in the Office for Education Policy, said it remains a question what impact HB1419 would have on Act 173 participation.

"That's not clear to me," he said. "If the issue in the past was that people didn't know about it, then changing the policy such that districts have to participate -- but if people still don't know about it -- it wouldn't seem to have much of an impact."

Lowery said earlier this week that lawmakers could revisit the issue in two years with better data on the program's usage.

Rep. Frances Cavenaugh, R-Walnut Ridge, spoke against HB1419 on the House floor on Thursday, taking issue with placing such a mandate on school districts.

Lowery also noted that the bill provides several exemptions. Districts could request a waiver from the requirement, or they could limit enrollment if the additional students would cause them to lose money.

Districts that accept home-schooled and private-school students receive one-sixth of the per-student funding amount provided by the state for each course those students take.

School administrators expressed concerns in committee earlier this week about how allowing outside students to enroll in classes could affect a district's attendance measures, but several lawmakers said they'd propose tweaks in the coming weeks to ensure HB1419 doesn't negatively affect districts in that way.

"There needs to be a policy," Lowery said. "It protects the students, the families that might want to be looking at their local school district for that opportunity. But better yet, it also protects the school districts that they have a written policy that's been approved by the school board."

A Section on 03/01/2019

Print Headline: House passes bill on home-schoolers

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