Senate Education Committee

January 11, 2023

Sen English: Good morning. I’m calling this meeting to order of the Senate Education Committee. My mic’s not working. Can you hear me now? Oh, thanks, Greg. Is that not working? Is it working now? I’ll speak up. Does that help? Does that help? A little bit. Okay. What a wonderful crowd we have here today. I’m so excited. So this is our Senate Education Committee. It is a really important committee, noted by all of the folks who are here who are interested in education. We have a number of new members to our Senate Education Committee this time around. And what I’d like to do is to first introduce each one of them and if you would start and just identify yourself, how long you’ve been doing this. Linda Chesterfield?

Sen Chesterfield: Thank you, madam chair. My name is Linda Chesterfield, representing now Senate District 12. I came in in Senate District 36 in the House. We were Senate District 34. And now I’m Senate District 12. I was an educator for 30 years in the Arkansas public schools, the majority of which was in the Pulaski County Special School District. I have been a part of this committee for the majority of my tenure. Having worked– it’s just interesting how life comes back around. We had to deal in my first term with Lakeview v. Huckabee, because the governor at that– and my first governor was a Huckabee. And so now here we are coming full circle.

Sen Davis: Hi, I’m Breanne Davis. I represent Pope County, Conway County, and the City of Dardanelle. This is my first time to serve on the Education Committee. I’ve been in the Senate since 2018. And before that, from 2009 to 2018, I served on the Russellville School District– Russellville school board, sorry. I’ve got four kids. Three are in public schools, and one’s in day care. And so I’m excited to be on this committee.

Sen Leding: Greg Leding, state senator for Fayetteville, first elected to the legislature in 2011, which feels kind of impossible. Was lucky enough to serve one term on House Education, came to the Senate in 2019. And this is my second session on Senate Education, and I look forward to the work ahead.

Sen Hammer: Good morning. Senator Kim Hammer. I represent District 18, which encompasses the majority of Saline County and then it takes in west Pulaski County. My first time to serve on Education Committee meetings, but I’ve been doing my due diligence and attending the Education Committee meetings as they’ve gone on during the interim. My claim to fame as far as education is my wife who taught 39 years in the public school system, is retired now, enjoying the benefits of the teacher retirement system. She went from one side to the other in that now she is a school board member of the Benton School Board, and glad that she is able to take her experience there. We have seven grandkids. All of our kids have graduated from public school system, including my grandkids that are all in public school system with the exception of one who is doing it at home. And so we’ve got a variety of experience from all directives and look forward to working on this committee and just want to work to make Arkansas better is what I’m after. Thank you.

Sen Bryant: Good morning, Joshua Bryant. I serve for District 32, which is eastern Benton County, northeastern Washington County, including the towns of Rogers and Springdale. I served four years on the quorum court for Benton County before going over to the House last session, before moving to the Senate this session. And my connection to education is my mother was an educator for her career and still holds a strong passion for it. So I’m glad to be here.

Sen Stone: Matt Stone, Senate District 2. Served on the Camden City Council. And I think I have 48 hours under my belt as a newly elected state senator. I’m proud to be on the Education Committee. I’m a product of the public education system here, K through 12, and also my college. So I’m just proud to be here, want to make a difference.

Sen Dotson: Senator Jim Dotson from District 9– 34. Using my old House district number mentally, still. Represent north central Benton County, which is Bella Vista, Bentonville, Centerton, the north central part of the Benton County area there. This will be my first time on Senate Education, but I’ve been in the legislature. I came from the House for the last 10 years and served on the Education Committee there at least one term.

Sen English: Thank you. And I’d like to introduce our staff, Emily Morozov and Kathy Lett, right here, right here, these two lovely ladies, and they are going to keep us all on course. And then Taylor Loyd is our attorney, staff attorney. First place, she’s broken both of her feet, so she’s at home working from home. But normally she will not be attending these things, but she is our staff attorney and prepares all of our legislation– or anybody’s legislation on education. So one of the things that– back on the back there– I know we’ve got a lot of folks in the room here, but on the back is a sheet. And so if you would sign in to that sheet just so we know who showed up today, we would appreciate it very much. So if you’d just sign in there. And one of the things that– we just have a couple of things we need to do, is adopt the House rules. And would I hear a motion to–

Sen Chesterfield: Move to adopt the rules.

Sen English: Thank you. Is there a second? All in favor? All opposed? And then I just need to remind folks a little bit that we have– always, before we do a bill, anybody that does a bill has to have a fiscal impact statement done on that bill. So be prepared. That’s a three-day process, usually. It could be longer, depending on how busy we all get– or everybody gets. So that’s just something to keep in your mind, so. And what I’d like to do today, because we do have– this is a really important committee, and we have an awful lot of folks who really are interested in education– and from my standpoint, education is kindergarten through career. So we have lots of people in here that represent K through 12, but higher ed, but also other organizations as well. And we are fortunate today to have the new secretary for education, Secretary Oliva, here with us, and I would like to introduce him and have him come up and introduce himself to you all and talk a little bit about his background and what he’s thinking. You could just come to the end of the table down there. There’s a microphone down there.

Oliva (ADE): Down here?

Sen English: Yeah, and just come to the end of the table. Yeah, this is just the beginning.

Oliva (ADE): Let’s see. Can you hear me?

Sen English: Yes, we can.

Oliva (ADE): Well, good morning. Thank you, Chair English, for allowing me the opportunity to be– and you said this is an important committee. In my world, this is the most important committee, and the work that you do in this committee and in the legislature as a delegated body really sets the foundation for expectation of what we want to see in our schools. So first I always want to say thank you for being a servant and representing your communities and being vulnerable. That takes a lot of courage. And just know that I truly appreciate that you’re out there listening to constituents and providing feedback. I think part of my role is to make sure that I build relationships with you to see how your feedback or your ideas become applicable or put into process.

Oliva (ADE): So just a little bit about me. I heard 48 hours in committee. I still don’t have a place to live yet. So I’m working on trying to become Arkansas’ newest resident. And eventually I’ll be able to get settled in here. I’m married to my wife, Rebecca, and we have two children. One’s in a university– a freshman in university. One’s an 8th grader that’ll be looking to come join one of the high schools here in the great state of Arkansas here over the next summer. I’ve spent my whole life working in education. I’m a product of the public school system in Miami-Dade County. And I went to school to become a teacher. My bachelor’s degree’s in elementary education in exceptional children. I spent time in the classroom working with primarily special needs students in the kindergarten through 3rd-grade level teaching students how to read, teaching how to be successful in the general education environment, and got talked into becoming a school administrator. Had an opportunity to be an elementary school principal for a little bit, and then got to go to a high school, be a principal at a high school shortly after being an elementary principal.

Oliva (ADE): And eventually I was a school district superintendent. Spent about four and a half years running a school district that had about 13,000 students in it, which is pretty similar to some of the size districts here in Arkansas. I’ve spent the last five and a half years working in senior level positions at the Florida Department of Education. So I come to Arkansas with the lens of, I’m a father of children that attend public schools. I’m a practitioner that’s spent over 20 years working in supporting public education, I’m also a state official that understands the Department of Education’s role in ensuring compliance and oversight of Florida statutes, State Board of Education rules, but also how to support school districts and have conversations with superintendents, with principals, with teachers to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to set up students to be successful in life. So I even had an opportunity yesterday to meet with all the district school superintendents here in the state. And I’m starting to spend some time working at the Department of Education.

Oliva (ADE): And I can tell you that from my perspective, there are some great leaders in this state, that the team at the Department of Education is fully committed to the work, and I’m really excited to be somebody that was, I think, confirmed about a few hours ago to be in this role and to really prioritize and implement the work of the State Board of Education in its strategic plan, but also the vision that Governor Huckabee Sanders has stated. And if you saw in the inauguration the passion and commitment towards improving learning in the state of Arkansas, that was very clear to being her number one priority. And to have an opportunity to work with her, to work with the team at the department, the State Board, to work with the legislative delegation, to make sure that students are literate, that they have access to early learning environments, that we can get 90% to 100% of our 3rd graders reading at or above grade level, to make sure that families have choices, that students have choices, that there’s multiple paths to being successful in education and in life, to make sure that we’re holding people accountable, to look at even improving networking opportunities and making sure that students have access to high-quality education and even making sure that career and technical education is a pathway available to students whose parents and children would benefit from that, and keeping our schools safe. And I can tell you, in almost 25 years of work in this space, the number one impact on reaching those goals and improving learning is going to be investing in our teachers and making sure that we recruit, retain, and recognize the best, to make sure they have the training that they need and deserve and to make sure that they have the tools to be successful and supporting our school leaders to making that happen. So I know you just wanted kind of a little bit of a high-level overview and that was probably a lot to take in, but I’ll pause there to see if there was any questions.

Sen English: Do you all have any questions here? Committee? Senator Hammer?

Sen Hammer: Could you tell me how many years did you spend in the classroom before you transitioned to the administrative level?

Oliva (ADE): Chair, do I respond through you–

Sen English: Yeah, you can go ahead.

Oliva (ADE): Thank you. So I taught for just over five years in the classroom level. It was interesting, because I was a school teacher and actually was a coach. I was a teacher at the elementary level and I coached the bowling team at the high school, so don’t judge me. But if anybody in here likes bowling, I would like to get caught up to speed on the bowling scene here in Arkansas. That’s a separate agenda. I was asked by my principal to consider– and superintendent– if I ever thought about going into school leadership, because we were a growing district. And I had never really even thought about it. And in fact, my student teaching, I did at the elementary school that I ended up getting hired to be a teacher at, and I went from being an intern in college, I was that school’s principal in six and a half years.

Sen Hammer: Okay. Thank you.

Oliva (ADE): Thank you.

Sen English: Very good. Senator Chesterfield?

Sen Chesterfield: Good morning and welcome. I have not had an opportunity to visit with you. But I look forward to it. I am a former classroom teacher. I don’t think you can ever be “former,” but we’ll do that. Have you studied Lakeview v. Huckabee? And in studying it, your commitments, then, to provide an adequate and equitable education to all of our children? And I say because we work so hard to improve facilities which are now in many areas in disarray. So we don’t have the adequacy, nor the equity, I think, that we need. But would you share your opinion of it, having looked at the Alma School District ruling and the Lakeview v. Huckabee ruling? Would you share with us your thoughts?

Oliva (ADE): Chair, is it okay to respond to–

Sen English: Certainly.

Oliva (ADE): Okay. So thank you. So “study” is a great word, because I’m familiar with the lawsuits and the impacts of the lawsuits and the adequacy, especially when it comes to funding, and some of the parameters that that’s put in the role that you play in the legislature in allocating funds and the role the State Board and the state plays in making sure they’re getting appropriated in a manner that meets the spirit of the law and the intention. Some of the nuances I wouldn’t say I’m at a deep level of understanding, but I’ll use the term– I’ll use one of the words that you kind of referenced in there that I think speaks to the spirit of it. And it’s really about opportunity and to making sure that every student, regardless of their ZIP code, has the opportunity and those families have choices that are available to them, that every student should be afforded to to be successful. So I hear from you that there’s work to be done in that space. So I welcome the opportunity to learn from an expert, especially if– I think you said about 39 years in the classroom, or– it was a significant amount of time– and hear about those ideas and see how we can collaborate to make sure that every child, regardless of their ZIP code, has the opportunity to achieve their goals.

Sen Chesterfield: And thank you for that. One of the things that– we had Shane Broadway in the room at that time. He was chairing the facilities committee of the Education Committee. And one of the things that I keep saying is, “We can’t get to adequacy until we see what inadequate looks like.” And children can’t learn in lousy facilities. And we have some great facilities and we have some lousy facilities. And I would like your thoughts– or your commitment to some extent to visit some of those school districts that don’t necessarily get the attention that we have got to give them if we’re talking about choice. We need to make every school a school of choice, and if it’s running down and it is not warm, safe, and dry, that can not happen. And I think I’m preaching to the choir here, as educators, but I want your thoughts on that. Thank you so much.

Oliva (ADE): You have my commitment to visiting campuses and schools. I believe that being present makes a difference. It tells people that you care about them. It provides an opportunity to give feedback. And it helps frame our lens, our reference to know what the real challenges are. You can read about what people are going through. You can hear about it. But until you walk facilities, until you’ve lived life in their shoes, and you can actually say, “I have heard and seen firsthand some of the challenges that these schools and classrooms are facing,”– you 1,000% have my commitment that I will be visible, and I will be present, and I will have my boots on the ground and my eyes and ears open. And I’m going to come back and report with what I see. And sometimes we’re going to like what I have to say, sometimes we’re not.

Sen Chesterfield: Thank you. And welcome to our state.

Oliva (ADE): Thank you.

Sen English: Thank you. Any other further questions? Well, we look forward to working with you. It’s going to be an exciting time. And we’re here– we’re all after the same thing. And so we look forward to working with you and your staff, and I think most of us already know what a great staff you have over there.  We’ve worked together quite a bit and hope to continue with that. Thank you very much.

Oliva (ADE): It’s my pleasure, and thank you again for the opportunity. Maybe next time I come, you’ll let me scoot a little closer, or–? I don’t know if I’ve–

Sen English: Well, actually, we’ll have–

Oliva (ADE): –if I made any progress.

Sen English: –a different room. We have a smaller room, but less space here. It’s cozier.

Oliva (ADE): Thank you so much. I really appreciate you.

Sen English: Yes. Thanks very much.

Oliva (ADE): I look forward to working with you.

Sen English: So one of the other things that we do, have done a lot of times, is it’s interesting for us to see who all’s in the room, who cares a lot, a little bit, about education. And we’ve got some groups of folks in here. So what I’d like to do is maybe start over here and ask you to introduce yourself and what organization you’re with. Yes. And just a little bit. It doesn’t have to be a 20-minute deal. Just–.[Introductions]


Sen English: So I guess what we have to say in here is how important this is– education is– throughout everything we do, every organization, every industry is so important. And I am always so pleased that all of you are willing to be a part of the conversation to help move our state forward to be able to get where we want to get to be for all of our students and all of our population. So I appreciate all of you being here today. We had a little sheet out there and it really would be helpful, kind of, if you might fill out this sheet and just so we make sure we have your contact information. But our plan will be to meet on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 o’clock in room 207, which is upstairs, which is where we normally would be, except they’re working on the windows right now. So that’s why we get to have this big room. It’s a cozy room, but yes.

Sen Hammer: Ma’am chair, would you clarify? Did you say Wednesday and Fridays?

Sen English: Friday, yes.

Sen Hammer: So we will be meeting on Fridays?

Sen English: Well, typically we don’t end up coming on Fridays for a lot of times. So until things get busy, we’ll probably just meet on Wednesday.

Sen Hammer: Okay. We’ll rock along as we go. Thank you.

Sen English: You know how that goes. We adjust. We move along. Does anybody in the audience have any questions that they’d like to ask or comments they’d like to make? Certainly open to that. It’s not usual, but yes. Use your microphone. Identify yourself.

Sen Dees: I didn’t get to say hello this morning. My name is Senator Tyler Dees. I don’t serve on this committee. But one day I hope to be like Senator English, and that’s why I’m here. Okay, I’m just taking notes. No, I am honored to be here. I am a product of two parents of public school educators and coaches. And so honored to be fighting for conservative values that we are all fighting for to help our children in their education journey. So thank you for letting me be here today.

Sen English: And we invite any legislator to come and sit in to our meetings. You don’t get to vote, but you get to sit in and be part of the conversation, so. I think that’s– is there anything else we need? All right, well, did you all have– anybody here have anything else they want to bring up? Okay, well, then, until– right now we don’t have any bills, so we probably won’t meet this next Wednesday, but you never know what will happen. But it will be on the calendar. And we will always make sure that everybody knows about it. If you have some thoughts and ideas, please do not hesitate to contact us. We’re always open for discussions. So thank you very much. Thank you.