Today’s piece is cross-posted from ExcelinEd’s reform news section.
The Arkansas 2015 Legislative Session marked a turning point for student-centered reforms, with the General Assembly passing significant education policies to better serve students and families. Chief amongst those policies, the Legislature enacted reforms to give students greater choice in education.
In early April, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law the Succeed Scholarship Program (HB 1552) for students with special needs. The Succeed Scholarship Program is Arkansas’ first private school choice program, allowing all public school students with an individualized education plan (IEP) the option of attending a private school of choice through a scholarship, beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. A very similar and long-standing program in Florida, the McKay Scholarship Program, has shown tremendous educational outcomes for students with special needs using the scholarship. Sponsored by Representative Douglas House, HB 1552 passed the Arkansas House and Senate unanimously.
COLLEGE AND CAREER READINESS
Governor Hutchinson approved the Economic Security Report (ESR) legislation (SB 211), which was sponsored by Senator Alan Clark. Arkansas becomes the second state to enact ESR legislation. Beginning July 1, 2016, Arkansas’ ESR will provide students in grades 8-12 and their parents with the necessary information to make informed decisions about career and college, including information about potential future employment and wages.
Representative Bill Gossage and Senator Missy Irvin sponsored Governor Hutchinson’s HB 1183, which requires that each public high school offer at least one computer science course, serving to both enhance students’ digital learning experience and to also introduce students to future workforce opportunities in computer sciences. Governor Hutchinson, Senator Jane English and Representative Gossage also spearheaded several other bills aimed at reorganizing the state’s workforce education systems, including providing dedicated funding to workforce training.
EMPOWERING STUDENTS, TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS
The Legislature enacted, and Governor Hutchinson approved, bills that empower students, teachers and schools to focus on learning opportunities and achievements for students.
- Senator Alan Clark and Representative Bruce Cozart’s SB 179 reauthorized the state’s public school choice (open enrollment) law, and in the process reduced the number of roadblocks that school districts were using to prevent students from exercising their choice to attend a public school that better meets their needs.
- Senator Missy Irvin and Representative Scott Baltz’ SB 342 increased funding from $7 million to $10 million annually for the state’s School Recognition and Reward Program, which provides financial awards to school with high student performance and high academic growth.
- Representative Grant Hodges and Senator Bart Hester’s HB 1957 provides teachers and other public school employees the freedom to join or terminate their membership in a union at any time, rather than being restricted by a narrow enrollment window.
- Senator Jim Hendren’s SB 789 established the Open-Enrollment Public Charter School Facilities Funding Aid Program.
ExcelinEd commends Governor Asa Hutchinson, Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, Speaker Jeremy Gillam, Education Committee Chairs Senator Jane English and Representative Bruce Cozart, Senator Jim Hendren, Senator Alan Clark, Senator Missy Irvin, Senator Bart Hester, Representative Ken Bragg, Representative Bill Gossage, Representative Douglas House, Representative Grant Hodges, Representative Charlotte Douglas, Representative Jon Eubanks, Representative Gary Deffenbaugh, Representative Scott Baltz, Representative Mark Lowery and many others for their commitment during Arkansas’ 2015 Legislative Session to improving the education system for all students in the Natural State.