Two bills that would have applied transparency requirements to all schools that receive taxpayer dollars failed in the Senate Education committee this morning for want of Republican support.
Both bills were by Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock). Senate Bill 710 would require the governing board of all schools that receive state funding to hold open public meetings and post notice of those meetings in advance. SB 712 would require all schools that receive state funds to comply with the state Freedom of Information Act, and would require a school with an admissions lottery to disclose on its website details about how it conducts that lottery and demographic information.
The legislation appears mostly targeted towards charter schools, which are privately-managed entities funded with public education funds. Some private schools that receive public dollars under a voucher program such as the “Succeed Scholarship” might also be impacted. Traditional public schools must comply with open meetings requirements and the FOIA.
Elliott introduced the legislation after the Senate Education committee rejected another of her bills, this one to ensure dyslexic students are receiving services. (We’ll have more coverage of that bill later.) She said SB 710 and SB 712 were “a matter of transparency and good government … and being accountable to the public.”
“This is just a fundamental thing that we are trying to do: That if [you] are using state funds … you shall comply with all the requirements of public and open meetings,” she said of SB 710. There was no audible dissent on the initial voice vote, and the committee chair, Sen. Jane English initially said, “Obviously, the bill has passed.” However, when another senator called for a roll call vote, only Elliott and fellow Democratic Sen. Uvalde Lindsey voted “yes”; the Republicans on the committee stayed silent, and the bill failed for lack of support. (On a roll call vote, a bill must receive five votes on the eight-member committee.)
Richard Hutchinson of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel spoke for SB 712, saying it was “a matter of transparency and making sure that people have the information about how their taxpayer dollars are spent.” Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale), who sponsored legislation earlier this session favorable to charter schools, asked him, “If this bill were passed, would you then support school choice, in your organization?” Hutchinson said he was there to talk specifically about SB 712, and Clark voted “No” on the bill. The rest of the committee’s Republicans again stayed silent on the roll call vote, and the measure failed for lack of support.