RCA President Lavina Grandon, Exec. Director Renee Carr, Asst. Exec. Director Candace Williams, and East Arkansas Regional Director Dorothy Singleton and RCA members Greta Greeno and Michelle Cadle were present along with bill sponsors while Governor Hutchinson signed HB1263 into law. What a momentous day we have worked toward for over a decade!
A momentous day in Little Rock! With snow and ice keeping all state offices closed and most every school in the state closed, the legislature was still in session. HB1263 was presented on the Senate Floor and passed with a vote of 22 to 0 with emergency clause. Now on to the Governor's desk for signature!
HB1263 for a waiver from Act 60 passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously this morning!!! Testifying for the bill was Dr. Tony Prothro-Arkansas School Boards Association, Candace Williams-Rural Community Alliance, Jimmy Cunningham-Hampton School and Past President National Rural Education Association, Scott Smith-Arkansas Public School Resource Center, Richard Abernathy-Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. Thank you to each and every one of them. There was NO opposing testimony! The vote was unanimous. Senator Blake Johnson presented the bill, accompanied by bill sponsor House Ed Cmte Chairman Bruce Cozart. Now the bill has one last hurdle: to pass on the Senate Floor.
Joyful news to report. HB1263 for waiver from Act 60 passed the House by a 95 to 0 vote this afternoon. On to the Senate Education Committee Wednesday morning! Thanks for all the good work. Now we can focus on our Senate members to garner support to pass it there.
Bill proposes sub-350-pupil merger waiver House to vote on measure sparing some consolidation CLAUDIA LAUER ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE A legislative committee passed a bill Thursday that would allow some Arkansas school districts with enrollment that drops below 350 students to continue to operate independently. House Bill 1263, by Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, would let those small, mostly rural school districts apply for a waiver from the state’s requirement that they be consolidated with a nearby school district. In order to apply for the waiver, the district would have to meet academic, fiscal and facility standards set by the state. “This really is a way to save education in Arkansas, by letting these schools stay small and meet the needs of these kids in their local environment where they’re supported by their parents, and their parents can get to parent teacher conferences,” said Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma. “When we go to these schools that are consolidated and we talk to those kids, it absolutely disrupts their lives to be consolidated. Many of them can’t play in athletics, they can’t be in clubs, their life is spent on a bus.” Douglas sponsored a separate bill that also aimed to revise the consolidation process. Cozart said at the start of the meeting that he had folded those changes into HB1263 before submitting it to the committee. “I think we have a lot of schools that have already been consolidated, and we’re trying to keep that from happening,” Cozart said. “What this bill does, is if a school district falls below 350, and they are not in fiscal distress, academic distress or facilities distress, or they do not have at that time any probationary status, this will let them continue to go on just like they were.” Since the Public Education Reorganization Act — Act 60 — passed in 2003, 68 school districts have been consolidated. In those districts, 98 schools have been closed including 53 high schools and 48 elementary schools, said Renee Carr, the executive director of the Arkansas Rural Community Alliance. “We have 28 school districts with 450 or fewer students. These school districts have a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them because of Act 60,” Carr said. The 2003 law was written after the state Supreme Court ruled in the Lake View School District case that the state had the responsibility of providing every student in every district with an “adequate” education. The state’s adequacy funding model is based on per pupil funding in a 500-student district, but several consultants determined that the funding model would work for students in a district as small as 350 students. Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, said if a district was allowed to drop below 350 students and still operate, he had concerns that it would not meet adequacy requirements. Cozart said all of the school districts, regardless of size, monitor adequacy. “We are really just going to have to give them a chance; I think that’s all they ask. Let’s give them a chance and see if they can do this,” he said. Former Springdale Republican state Rep. Randy Alexander sponsored an interim study request last session to see whether consolidation had been fiscally beneficial to the districts or affected other performance or academic measures. He said the Weiner School District, which was consolidated with the Harrisburg School District in 2010, was ranked 13th academically but was merged with the 198th ranked school. He said Weiner also had $1 million in the bank and a higher millage tax rate than Harrisburg before the merger. The bill will now go to the House floor.
Equal Voice News, originating in Seattle, published a good story about Arkansas' Act 60. Journalist Amy Roe interviewed RCA members and Executive Director Renee Carr and did a good job of synthesizing a story with many layers and an 11+ year case history. Her story titled "Too Small to Fail" can be found at this link:http://www.equalvoiceforfamilies.org/too-small-to-fail/
HB1263 has been amended to address most all of the concerns expressed by RCA. Rep. Charlotte Douglas has helped immensely with that and is now a co-sponsor of Chairman Bruce Cozart's HB1263. The bill will come before the House as early as March 2. It should be presented to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, March 4. Keep those calls going to legislators to pass HB1263 for waiver from Act 60.
Watch this compelling news story by KAIT8 about Act 60. Nice job, Armorel students and staff! http://www.kait8.com/story/28105174/act-60-may-see-changes-with-new-governor (copy link into browser)
We have hopeful news to end the week. Our Act 60 Relief bill sponsors Rep. Charlotte Douglas, Rep. Bruce Cozart, and Rep. Reginald Murdock are working together very collaboratively to combine and craft the very best bill(s) that we can get passed. For right now, in respect of the process, please hold off on further emails and contacts to them as well as other legislators until the bill is ready. All your emails and calls have brought the issue to the forefront, resulting in getting us where we are now. More contacts will be needed later when the bill is ready. Everyone is still urged to sign our Repeal Act 60 petition found at http://repealact60.com/. We have 2,657 signatures now. You can view all the names and towns of those who've signed. Take a look and see if your school/community is showing up strong. We will be sharing the petition with all our legislators when the bill starts working through committee and on to the House and Senate floors. Please also take a minute to view the three short 4-minute videos at http://repealact60.com where rural Arkansans tell how Act 60 has affected them. There stories are very compelling and hearing them can change hearts and minds. We will be using them as a tool to inform and persuade as we continue the process of getting passage of the bill(s) Thank you for being a strong advocate for our rural schools. Have a wonderful weekend!
Hats off to our fearless leader Rep. Charlotte Douglas who is committed to help our smallest schools survive and succeed. She's championed this effort through interim study and continues to forge ahead with amazing resolve and grace. We continue to hammer out the details to get an Act 60 Relief bill to save our small schools. You can't imagine the intensity of these interactions as we try to get a bill that makes the most of our long-awaited opportunity while passing the inspection of the Attorney General and gaining the support of legislators and the Governor. Former Rep. Randy Alexander who championed a relief bill two years ago has dedicated incredible hours to seeing it through, simply because it is the right thing to do. Yesterday the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators endorsed the bill. Arkansas PTA has also endorsed it. Part of our day was spent working the halls and rotunda signing co-sponsors for the bill. A big shout-out to RCA members who have contacted their legislators about the bill. That made it much easier to sign them up when they know they have support from home. Our Friends of Weiner and RCA members Greta Horst Greeno and Michelle Whitlock Cadle were right there with us helping us find co-sponsors for the bill throughout the day. They are an inspiration, spending countless hours and driving long miles to correct a wrong. They are doing this to keep others across Arkansas from experiencing what Weiner High School students have endured when their school was closed. Thanks everyone for all the good work!
On Monday, February 9, Representative Charlotte Douglas filed HB1312 that provides a waiver from Act 60. The bill contains the recommendations of the Interim Study and is endorsed by Rural Community Alliance and superintendents of the state's smallest school districts. It contains an automatic waiver from Act 60 if the district is not on academic or fiscal distress, and offers the same duration of time for a district to be removed from a distress list as any other district. The bill also has an emergency clause, making it effective for any school subject to Act 60 as of January 2015. We are recruiting co-sponsors for the bill.
RCA's Renee Carr, former legislator Randy Alexander, Rep. Charlotte Douglas, and Rep. Bruce Cozart met with Governor Hutchinson's Education Advisor Sarah Moore. Both Cozart and Douglas have drafted bills. At this stage, Ms. Moore is gathering information from interested parties. The governor is interested in a waiver that allows schools under 350 to avoid consolidation if certain criteria are met. RCA has made our position known that the waiver should allow the same length of time to be removed from the state's fiscal or academic distress list that is afforded to larger schools.