Rep. Brian Evans (center) talks with Reps. DeAnn Vaught (right) and Les Warren during last year’s fiscal session. (Photo Courtesy of the Arkansas House of Representatives)
Chairman Brian Evans (R-Cabot) has tentatively scheduled a special order of business for the House Education Committee’s Feb. 28 meeting to discuss the LEARNS Act.
Lawmakers filed Senate Bill 294, the governor’s sweeping education bill, on Monday.
During Tuesday’s committee meeting, Evans said the timing will depend on the Senate’s actions, but he wanted to give ample notice to stakeholders who may want to be present to speak for or against the 144-page bill.
The legislation covers a wide range of topics including teacher pay, school safety, career readiness, literacy and “indoctrination.”
“We’re going to take as long as we need to take to make sure that every voice and every concern or every comment of support is heard,” he said.
Lead sponsor Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville) is scheduled to present SB 294 to the Senate Education Committee at 9 a.m. Wednesday. The bill has 25 of the Senate’s 35 members as cosponsors and 55 of the House’s 100 members as cosponsors.
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In other business Tuesday, the House Education Committee concurred in Senate amendments on two bills. House Bill 1161 from Ashley Hudson (R-Little Rock) would require public schools and open-enrollment charter schools to allow at least 10 days of excused absences for both teenage parents after the birth of their child.
Proposed by Julie Mayberry (R-Hensley), HB 1185 would amend the Public School Choice Act of 2015, which limits more than 3% of a school district’s population from transferring to another district. Mayberry’s bill would add an exception to that cap for students who attended preschool in a nonresident district for at least one year before enrolling in kindergarten.
The LEARNS Act includes plans to create a voucher program that would have no caps on participation by the 2025-26 school year, as long as the program is fully funded.
Mayberry is not listed as one of the 55 House members sponsoring the LEARNS Act.
HB 1161 and HB 1185 will both head back to the full House for final approval before being sent to the governor.
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The House Education Committee also approved two new bills on Tuesday.
HB 1336 would create an agricultural education pilot program in elementary schools. Sponsor Bruce Cozart (R-Hot Springs) said the program would be implemented in a minimum of six public schools for three years, at which point the program can be terminated or implemented in schools statewide.
HB 1347 from Rep. Rick Beck (R-Center Ridge) would create an appeals process for students in good standing who lose their lottery-funded scholarship due to circumstances like a missed deadline.
“It gives us an opportunity to show a little bit of grace for students who have legitimate reasons, that were good students, that were making progress, that we’ve already invested in, and we don’t want to lose those students to that minor circumstance that was incapacitating,” said Maria Markham, director of the Arkansas Division of Higher Education.
The recommendation to create an appeals process was made to the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Lottery Oversight committee in December.
HB 1336 and HB 1347 will next be presented to the full House.
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