For AR People

Some rural Arkansas Republicans aren’t ready to hand over public money to lightly regulated, unaccountable private and church schools.

Rep. Jim Wooten (R-Beebe), about as socially conservative as they come, put up some strong bills this week to ensure tax dollars don’t go toward further segregating Arkansas schools.

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Governor Sarah Sanders and her legislative operatives will likely spring a voucher program on us any minute. Her “school choice” push is expected to funnel public money into the hands of private and church schools, and possibly to homeschooling parents.

Wooten filed House Bill 1204 to require any school that accepts publicly funded vouchers to provide transportation, just like traditional public schools have to do. And Wooten also filed House Bill 1205 that would require annual student assessments for voucher-accepting private schools.

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A public school teacher who has also taught in a private school, Petty has been following the voucher issue closely.

The bills are on the House Education agenda, where they’ll sit waiting pending the outcome of a fiscal impact study.

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On that same list is House Bill 1192 by Rep. Jon Eubanks (R-Paris) and Sen. Scott Flippo (R-Bull Shoals) goes after rural education co-ops that enable smaller districts to share resources, particularly professional development trainings. Arkansas has 15 of these co-ops, per the Arkansas Department of Education Data Center.

Those co-ops are currently governed by representatives appointed by the local school boards. HB1192 would put these co-ops under the control of political appointees chosen by the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tempore. The proposed change looks to delete the definition of what education co-ops are and the role they can play.

This part of the existing law, the part that lays out the purpose for these co-ops, would be struck. No new definition of what these co-ops might be would be added under the bill as currently filed:

Public school districts in the State of Arkansas are empowered to voluntarily agree to share programs, personnel, materials, and equipment for the purpose of enlarging curriculum or services or providing new services to students in their respective school districts. 

The educational cooperatives are empowered to receive state, local, and federal funds that have been assigned to the educational cooperatives by the member school districts and are also empowered to spend 13 those funds on behalf of the school districts assigning those funds. 

Public school advocates seem to really hate this one, noting that the local control and independence of member school districts will be erased as political appointees displace school board appointees.

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