Lively discussion this morning at the weekly meeting of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus, with members discussing House Bill 1733, which — as we’ve previously discussed on the blog — would set up “Achievement School Districts” that could be operated in conjunction with an outside non-profit, opening the door to private contractors taking over schools in academic distress and potentially allowing districts up to and including the LRSD to become a petri dish for experimentation by the state’s crop of wealthy education tinkerers.
Also discussed today was a bill that would allow school resource officers to issue citations and arrest students, which some members said would pervert the original intent of the school resource officer position and led to more juveniles in what they termed the “school to prison pipeline.”
Rep. Reginald Murdock started discussion on HB1733 by noting that it gives away local control of academically distressed schools. “It borders on a lot of constitutional issues with regard to taxation and representation,” he said. “This is not good for the state or for our children.”
Rep. John Walker was even more forceful in his condemnation of the bill, calling it “a bill to reinstate segregation” by taking over poor, majority-black schools. “This is a blatant attempt to re-segregate schools and do it in a way that will pass constitutional muster,” Walker said. He went on to say the bill is an attempt to get rid of teachers’ unions, a move that would leave teachers unprotected, with their hiring and firing based on “the whim of those in charge.” He said the bill, if passed, would further burden academically distressed schools because good teachers will not want to teach in schools where they lack protections.
The Caucus also discussed Senate Bill 5, which would require a minimum score of 19 on the ACT to be eligible for a scholarship paid for by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. Several members said the requirement would exclude many black students from the lottery scholarship based on ACT score. Other members noted that while wealthier students can afford to take the ACT test multiple times, bettering their score each time, poor students can often only afford to take it once.
Later in the meeting, the caucus discussed HB1583, which would give school resource officers the ability to issue citations and make arrests In schools. Walker called it “an evil bill” that will act to put more kids into the juvenile justice system. Walker noted that officers are not required to follow the school disciplinary handbook and could write tickets and make arrests at will if the bill passes.
Sen. Joyce Elliott noted that the original intent of school resource officer programs was to build relationships between juveniles and police, which she said was the opposite of what HB1583 would do. Resource officers, she said, we’re never meant as disciplinarians. Walker said the caucus should be not only ready to vote against the bill, but to speak against it as well.