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Committee approves education bills addressing school choice, GED merit

By: - January 24, 2023 4:48 pm

The House Education Committee approved two bills on Tuesday, including one that would allow a student who resides on a tract of land located in two school districts to choose which district they want to attend. 

Under current law, if the school district line cuts through a home, where the majority of the house sits determines which district the child will attend, HB1112 sponsor Rep. Les Warren (R-Hot Springs) told committee members.

Rep. Les Warren
Rep. Les Warren (Arkansas House)

Warren said he knows a family who bought a home that was classified in the Lakeside School District, but during their daughter’s senior year, they received a new real estate tax bill that showed they were in Hot Springs School District. Advances in technology led to more precise boundaries that indicated they weren’t in the Lakeside School District, he said.

“So this just gives them the ability to choose which district they get to go to rather than having problems with having to switch at any point,” Warren said.

A spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Education said the agency doesn’t track the number of residences that might be in a similar situation.

Warren said after the meeting that he’s “only been made aware of a couple at this point. Some are probably not aware their school district has changed, as it shows up as a number, not spelled out.”

The bill is limited in scope and would impact people living in counties with a desegregation order because they don’t have school choice, he told the committee.

Warren represents Garland County where the Lakeside and Hot Springs school districts are bound by a desegregation order in Davis, et al., v. Hot Springs School District, et al.

The ruling requires school choice transfers in Garland County be conducted in accordance with the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 1989, which prohibits a student from transferring to a non-resident district where the percentage of enrollment for the student’s race exceeds that percentage in the student’s resident district, with limited exceptions. 

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The House Education Committee also approved HB1091, which requires that passage of a GED test be treated as the same as a high school diploma for the purpose of employment.

Rep. Carol Dalby
Rep. Carol Dalby (Arkansas House)

The law in education code defines this for purposes of going to college or getting a scholarship, but not for employment, lead sponsor Rep. Carol Dalby (R-Texarkana) said.

“We’re just trying to make it clear in the law that if you have gotten out of school or you dropped out of school and you didn’t get your high school diploma, we’re trying to encourage folks to go back and do that to help them in their employment,” Dalby said.

There are 300,000 Arkansans without a high school diploma, she said.

The committee unanimously approved HB1091 and HB1112 without any discussion. Both bills now head to the full House.

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Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.

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