Jan. 12, 2023
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Rep Evans: To all of our guests that are present today– I greatly appreciate the well-attended amount of people that we have here today. For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Representative Brian Evans from Cabot, and it is an honor for me to chair the House Education Committee for this session. I’d like to introduce my Vice Chair, Keith Brooks. Keith, if you’d like to take a moment and just introduce yourself.
Rep Brooks: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’m Keith Brooks. This is my second term. I represent District 78, West Little Rock, portions of northern Pulaski and northern Saline, and just honored to have the opportunity to vice chair this committee and deal with some important issues for the state of Arkansas. Apparently, given our attendance this morning, there may be some things of interest to some folks. And I would imagine it’ll be the case most every week. So thank you, members, for being willing to serve on this committee and do the important work to better the education prospects for the students in the state of Arkansas. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Brooks. And as this is just an organizational meeting. I do make note that the Chair sees a quorum, so we are open for any business. Want to take just a moment– I think all of you at the table know each other. We’ve been through a few days already. But I would like each of you to just take a moment, introduce yourself, the district that you represent, and just briefly kind of discuss your background. I think that is important for all the stakeholders that are in the room to get to know us better. And so we’ll start over here to my right. Representative Cozart.
Rep Cozart: Good morning, everyone. Representative Bruce Cozart out of Hot Springs, District 91. It’s about my 6th session on Education, and it’s been fun all the times before. And we’re going to have a great time this year also. Glad to be here.
Rep C Fite: Good morning. I’m Charlene Fite. I represent parts of Washington and Crawford County. I taught special ed for about 150 years and also became a school psychology specialist and did that for a number of years with the Fort Smith School District. So I’m honored to be on this committee.
Rep McNair: Ron McNair. I represent District 5, which is south Boone County. I was a couple terms on the city council, 30 years on the school board, 11 years on the Arkansas School Board Association. Just appreciate the opportunity to see what we can do to help our education system.
Rep Beck: I’m Rick Beck. I’m in the new District 43. This is my 5th term down here at the Capitol and my fourth term on this Education Committee. I tried to get on it the first time I was down here, but it’s a hard committee to get on. So I couldn’t make it the first time, but I do believe that education is probably the most important thing that we can do for our state and for the future of our state.
Rep L Fite: Representative Lanny Fite. I represent parts of Benton, Bryant, Hot Springs Village, District 83. This is my 5th term I’m starting here. Previously, I was a county judge in Saline County for 16 years. Look forward to working with all of y’all.
Rep Vaught: I’m Representative DeAnn Vaught. District 87. That’s Sevier County, Little River County, and a portion of Howard County. I have five small rural schools in my district. This is my fourth term to be on Education. It’s one of the toughest committees that there is here, to me. But it’s probably the most rewarding because it’s the one that makes the biggest impact on our children in the state, which is something that I care a lot about. I’ve been a sub for years for a school before I became a legislator. And I’ve been a long time sub also, so I understand what it’s like to be in a classroom. And I look forward to working with all of y’all.
Rep Maddox: Good morning. John Maddox. I’m District 86, and I have the new district that’s all of Polk, all of Montgomery, and a portion of Howard County. This is my second term on Education. And this is my fourth term overall. So I had to choose between Education and Judiciary. And I don’t know if I made the right choice or not, but I’m here. In my other life, I am an attorney. So I really have no background in education. However, just so everyone knows, my wife is a public school teacher. She’s in her 26th year of teaching Kindergarten. So that’s one reason I do have some interest. And we have numerous small public schools in my district that I’m very– have a very close working relationship with. So look forward to working with everyone.
Rep Evans: Representative Barker, before you start. Ma’am, your flashlight is on your phone, and it is going right through my left eye. Could you– [laughter]? Thank you. Representative Barker, you may proceed. Thank you.
Rep Barker: I’m Representative Sonia Barker. I represent District 96 now, which covers parts of Bradley, Calhoun, Cleveland, Dallas, Ouachita, and Union Counties. I am an educator by trade. I’ve been an educator for over 30 years. I’m not going to tell you exactly how many because that’s too telling. I have taught for 20 years, junior high and high school. This is my fourth term, my second time to be on the Education Committee, and I’m glad to be back.
Rep Wing: My name is Carlton Wing. I represent North Little Rock and Sherwood. This is my fourth term but my first term on Education. I traded away a very coveted spot on Public Health to be able to get here. And I’m looking forward to this. One of the reasons why is that I do believe if you look at what will move the needle the most for quality of life in the state of Arkansas, it’s education. And so I’m thrilled to be a part of this today.
Rep Garner: And I’m Denise Garner. I’m from Fayetteville, District 20. I’ve gone from seven school districts in my district to one. But I love my rural Washington County school districts as well. I come to Education the second time, my third term but the second time. I took a break for a term for Rev & Tax, but I’m excited to be back. And my passion is early childhood, and I have experience in higher ed as a nurse practitioner and look forward to working in K-12 as well. Thank you.
Rep Walker: Steven Walker, District 27. It’s Izard County all the way to Newton County in the north-central part of our state. This is my first term, and I am looking forward to serving on the Education Committee with all of you guys. I have a master’s in educational leadership. I spent six years as a teacher and I’m in my 5th year serving with DESE, helping our school districts around the state. So I’m looking forward to trying to help improve education the best we can. Thank you.
Rep Long: Wayne Long from District 39, covers portions of White County, Independence, and Jackson County. I’m a small business owner and farmer and a proud homeschool dad and feel blessed to have had the opportunity to get on this committee.
Rep Duke: I’m Hope Duke, and I represent District 12 in Northwest Arkansas. I’m as north and west as you can get up there, Gravette, Decatur, Maysville, parts of Bella Vista, Sulphur Springs. I don’t want to leave anyone out when shortlisting things. I have a degree in secondary education, taught for two years when I was a lot younger than I am now, and then raised my kids. I have three kids, two of which are currently teachers. I’m very proud of them. I believe when you’re– have an education degree and you truly have a passion and, I think, a gift for teaching, you always teach kids. So I’ve been working with kids since I was 16 years old. Still do in a variety of capacities. I recently just finished up my 6th year on the Gravette School Board, which was a hard place to leave. So I think serving on the school board is one of the places you can make the most direct impact. And I am very excited to serve with all of you guys. And I appreciate all the kindness that we’ve received this week, and this year, hopefully.
Rep Painter: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Representative Stetson Painter, District 3, parts of Baxter County, Mountain Home, parts of Fulton County, Viola. A little background. I’m a soldier, also been a congressional staffer for 11 years. I’m a small business owner. We have a farm. I look forward to working with all of you to help our education be more successful. And so, again, thank you. It’s an honor.
Rep McKenzie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Brit McKenzie. I represent the fighting 7th District, which is Benton County. My background: so I have experience working in education as a congressional aid for a member of Congress. Beyond that, working in my community for daycares, early childhood development centers. Beyond that, the most important reason is I have four not-yet-school-aged children. I’m excited to be working on legislation that they will one day inherit. Thank you.
Rep Evans: So to all of our stakeholders in the audience, I think you see that we have a– oh, I’m sorry. Representative Flowers. You came in.
Rep Flowers: No, I’m sorry that I got here a couple minutes late. My name is Vivian Flowers. I’m State Rep for District 65. And that’s part of Jefferson County, including, and especially part of, Pine Bluff. It’s important to note that I represent a district in which my school district has been under state control for several years. So it is definitely, I think, important for me to serve in this capacity. And it’s a pleasure to serve on the Education Committee. I’ll also note that in my former life, for about 10 years, I worked at UAMS in higher education for the academic units as Chief Operating Officer for the Center for Diversity Affairs. And I have a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in public service. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Flowers, and all the other members of the committee. And stakeholders, I was saying, as you see, we have formed together a fabulous group of individuals who not only are committed to service, but in many aspects of years of experience, background, and professional service, they have been deeply vested in education. And so I really look forward to all of the different aspects and wisdom that comes out of this group as we move education forward in the state of Arkansas, most especially to benefit each and every child that’s out there.
Rep Evans: Want to introduce our staff. To my right, Emily Morosov. She will be our committee analyst on behalf of BLR. In the back of the room– Cathy, wave at everybody– Cathy Lett. She’ll be our administrative assistant. And then our staff attorney is Taylor Loyd. Taylor could not be here with us today, but I’m sure she is tuning in. And she is available to help you on anything pertaining to education.
Committee dates and processes
Rep Evans: Members, want to make note that you will be using your own devices to pull and research and study bills. If you go to the Arkleg website, go to the Committee Agenda, there’s a blue hyperlink that will be there. You can click on the agenda, and you can do all of your preparation and study of bills for our committee from there. During the session, our committee will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays in this room at 10 AM. Unless something gets in the way of that, that is our plan. And it takes 11 members present for us to have a quorum and to conduct any action items. And that will be at the call of the Chair.
Rep Evans: According to House rules, the agendas for the meeting will be posted two days in advance. Notifications will be sent to the sponsor of bills via your House email if you’re going to have a bill on that agenda two days in advance. I am an over-communicator. You will learn that. And you will probably learn to hate that quickly. You will get tired of text messages from me and emails from me. But I am committed to communicate with you and to make sure you have every opportunity to do the things that you need to do and to be informed as you serve on this committee. And so I want to make sure that everyone’s House email address is working. And you’re monitoring? Good. Great. And I have all of your cell phones. And so I will pledge to you that I will communicate as very best as I can to also make sure that if you are– if have a bill on an agenda, let’s say, for Thursday, I will be reaching out to you some point on Wednesday and just saying, “Hey, I want to make sure you are ready to run your bill tomorrow.” If you’re not ready, that’s not a problem. We can skip over it. We have good protocol that we provide to each other as a courtesy of operating sometimes on a flexible agenda. Because as the session goes on, you’re going to get pulled in a lot of different directions. And if you need to skip over your bill that day, we’ll do that. We’ll come back to you. We’ll make it as accommodating as possible for every member of this committee to present your bills and work on your legislation at your convenience if at all possible.
Rep Evans: Amendments: amendments do have to be in writing in this committee. So we will not accept any amendments verbally from the floor. If you’ve got an event and an amendment that you need to run to your bill, please notify staff as early as possible so that that can be prepared. Please let Representative Brooks and I know that you’re going to have an amendment so that we can make sure that that is ready for you on the day of that committee.
Rep Evans: We do have what’s called a special order of business. If there is a bill, a piece of legislation, that is going to potentially be very controversial, if it’s going to be something where you are bringing in people to testify in favor of or against a bill– maybe you’re having people come in from out of state and you need to plan that accordingly– we want to be accommodating to that. And so it’s not something you’ll see a lot. But it is an option at the call of the Chair that if we need to have a special order of business to take up one particular thing and make sure that everyone can be accommodating, we can set that. And that might be outside of our normal meeting time. But you will be notified well in advance of that.
Rep Evans: A big item to make sure that everyone understands: Any bill that goes through this committee must have a fiscal impact statement. Once your bill is filed, then it will go to the Parliamentarian for committee assignment. If it’s assigned to the Education Committee, then our staff member will be notified. She will be monitoring that. And she will order the fiscal impact statement from the Bureau. Correct? Correct.
BLR Staff: Through the department.
Rep Evans: Through the department. And once that fiscal– typically, you should allow three days for that fiscal impact statement to be put together and transmitted back to her. As the session goes on, that could take longer than three days. But as a rule of thumb, you should plan for three days from the time that you file your bill until that fiscal impact is back. Once it’s back, it will come to Emily and she will notify you that the fiscal impact has been received. She will send you a copy of that so that you can view. You will have bills that will have zero fiscal impact to it. We understand that. Asking you to get a fiscal impact is not a punishment. It’s actually just a process. And so we want to make sure that you understand that, “Hey, I’ve got a bill filed. It’s on the agenda.” Well, actually, where it’s going to be– until we have that fiscal impact back, it will say, “Pending fiscal impact,” on the agenda. And once that is in, she will move that onto our regular agenda and that will be available for the committee to view.
Rep Evans: I would, at this time— and we have a room full of stakeholders here and I am ecstatic that we have that many people that are vested and want to be a part of our process. I do want to take a moment– Secretary Oliva, if you would, would you mind going to the end of the table? Secretary Jacob Oliva, the new Secretary of Education, is here this morning. He rearranged his schedule. Actually, I believe, you were supposed to be getting sworn in at this time. And so we’ve asked him to postpone that, hopefully without any risk. And he is here to join us. And so, Secretary, if you would take a few minutes, introduce yourself, talk about your background and some things that’s on your vision for education.
Secretary of Education Oliva
Oliva Sec of Ed: Sure. It’s my honor and I’m privileged to be here. So thank you, Chair Evans, for allowing me the opportunity. And thank you for all the stakeholders that have a vested interest. I know I come from the lens and the mindset that there is nothing more important that we can do in our work each and every single day but to improve learning throughout the state of Arkansas. And we are going to be 100% committed to working together to make sure that happens. I have a lot of different experiences in my background. But I think, first, it’s important for you to know how much I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and work with me and to be a delegate in your local community and represent the constituents that you serve. It takes a lot of courage to be out in the public. And that commitment is something that I hold in very high regard.
Oliva Sec of Ed: And I have been very fortunate throughout my career to present to lots of committees about several different topics. And I’m very grateful that Chair Evans allowed everybody to go around and introduce themselves and share a little bit about their background and why they’re committed to the work of this committee. I can tell you, hands down, without a doubt, 1,000%, this is the most qualified committee of relevant stakeholder-invested experience that I have ever had an opportunity to sit in front. So that really gets me excited to know that there’s real practitioners that are engaged in this work. And there’s somebody that I can lean on to ask questions and be vulnerable. Because you know firsthand what it’s like to support students right here in this great state. And I want to be a thought partner with each and every single one of you.
Oliva Sec of Ed: So I was, recently, I guess, voted in– I’m not sure if that’s the right term– as the Secretary of Education, sworn in. I think that happened yesterday. This has been quite a busy week. So today’s day two. And we have a state Board of Education meeting today where I’ll be considered to be the Commissioner of Education as well. So a little bit of transition in my life for me, personally. I’m married. I have two children that attend public schools. In fact, my daughter is a freshman in university now at a neighboring state, in Birmingham, Alabama. And I have a son who’s in eighth grade that– probably going to finish out this school year and get transitioned over here to start joining one of the schools in our communities here as a high schooler, as a freshman in high school.
Oliva Sec of Ed: I grew up in Florida. I’m a product of the public school system in Miami-Dade schools. I went to school to become a teacher. I come to serve this agency as a practitioner. I have a degree, a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. And it was a dual major in supporting exceptional.
Oliva Sec of Ed: children. I spent my teaching career in the classroom, primarily between the grades of kindergarten through 3rd grade, supporting students with disabilities, specifically students with learning disabilities, to help them learn how to read and be successful in a mainstream classroom. So that’s kind of where my heart and my passion is, is trying to support some of our vulnerable students to make sure that they get those foundational skills built in them. Got talked into getting a master’s degree in ed leadership. I think I heard somebody over here had a master’s degree in ed leadership. Welcome to the club, I guess. And I had an opportunity to be an elementary school principal earlier in my career. Transition was a high school principal for a little while before joining the district office and served for about four and a half years as a school district superintendent in a school district that had about 13,000 students in it. So it’s pretty similar to some of the size districts right here in Arkansas.
Oliva Sec of Ed: Had an opportunity to work for a couple of different governors at the state level in state policy work at the Department of Education in Florida. Currently– well, pretty soon not to be anymore, in a senior-level position within the Department of Education. And I had an opportunity to come work for this great state to serve the constituents here in Arkansas and support the bold and innovative vision that Governor Huckabee Sanders has outlined and said throughout her campaign and is committed to making sure that we improve learning here in this state and is going to be recognized as the education governor across the nation. So I’m honored and humbled to be a part of that team.
Oliva Sec of Ed: In fact, yesterday, and some of you were able to join an executive order signing where Governor Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order of what’s called the LEARNS acronym, which focuses on literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking, and safety. And what that executive order did, which gets me really excited, is to set the vision of how we’re going to improve learning. It’s the roadmap. It’s the blueprint. It’s the foundation that we’re going to build on. And it tasks the agency to do a lot of work in a very short amount of time, and it’s going to be the kind of outline or roadmap that if we need some legislative support and some legislative opportunity to implement this bold vision to improve opportunities for students, we’re going to have to work with this committee and the rest of the legislative delegation to make this vision come alive and applicable in this great state.
Oliva Sec of Ed: So we’re acting with urgency, and I can tell you I have been extremely impressed with the quality of talent that resides in the Department of Education, their willingness to do whatever it takes to improve learning. I had an opportunity to meet with school superintendents earlier this week on Tuesday to talk to them about how we can implement this vision. Extremely positive, extremely receptive, everybody that I’ve talked to. There’s a lot of stakeholders here 100% committed to doing whatever we need to do to get it right because there’s no greater task than to improve teaching and learning and opportunities.
Oliva Sec of Ed: Right now, in this state today, 140,000 students in this state go to a school that’s graded D or an F. And that’s not fair to the students. That’s not fair to those communities. That’s not fair to those families. And we can do better. And we’re going to do better when we recruit, retain, and recognize high-quality teachers. The single biggest impact that we know can improve learning is the teacher or the adult standing in that classroom, supporting principals, supporting superintendents, supporting elected school boards and delegations with the resources they need, holding people accountable, teaching professional development, getting the right curriculum, and making sure that students have access to high opportunities and clean pathways that include career education and the strong foundation in literacy is built so that they can be set up for success in life. We got to keep students safe while we’re doing that, improving our school campuses, making sure that we’re doing everything we can to make the learning environment optimal is something that we’re going to strive for. And at the end of the day, when we put this bold vision in place, we lay out this blueprint, we work with the great team that’s assembled here, we hear from our stakeholders about innovative ideas that we can put into place and align resources to make it happen, it’s going to win because student performance is going to improve. And I know that I’m excited to come here as a practitioner with a lot of experience in this space and work with the great folks that I’ve been able to engage with to make that happen.
Oliva Sec of Ed: So I really appreciate Chair Evans for allowing me to just come in, make sure everybody is familiar with the background. I’ve had an opportunity to meet several folks here already, but just make sure that everybody here knows that we’re accessible. We want to be a thought partner. I’m not going to tell you I have all the answers, but the answers are in this room. There’s a lot of experts here, and there’s no challenge that we can’t solve if we’re not doing it together.
Rep Evans: Secretary, thank you very much for those words and that introduction, and we appreciate you juggling your schedule today to come over and meet with us and we look forward to having a great partnership between this committee, you and your staff and your department as we take on this journey over the next few weeks.
Oliva Sec of Ed: Thank you so much. Looking forward to it.
Rep Evans: Yes, thank you very much. Thank you. [applause] Members, as I said, we have a lot of stakeholders here today, and I think that shows us even more so the importance of the work that we’re going to be doing during this General Assembly. And I would like to just ask today if you are here representing an agency or an association, if you would like to go to the end of the table and just introduce yourself and who you represent. We’ve got some time allowed for that. Not really any lobbying today or any persuasion, but just introduce yourself, let us know who you are, if we’ll be seeing you around over the next few weeks. If anyone would like to do that, please go to the end of the table. Dr. Markham, that’d be a good start. Thank you.
Markham DHE: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m Maria Markham, Director, Division of Higher Ed. This will be my fourth regular session working with the education committees, and I think we’ve done a lot of positive things for higher education. Lots of work left to do. Primary focus for me this session will be improving affordability for our students and communicating to those students the value, not really of higher ed, but the value to their quality of life. It’s not just about the communities and the economic development of the workforce, but what higher education can do for them, not just what career they can get. So thank you.
Rep Evans: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Markham, for your commitment to higher ed. Yes, ma’am?
Miles DWS: Good morning. My name is Trenia Miles, and I’m the state director for adult education under the Division of Workforce Services. I represent these adult learners in the state of Arkansas, getting them the tools to retool and upskill so that we can get them into the workforce or into a higher educational job training program. I look forward to your support and your guidance in this session as we try and get more individuals in Arkansas– we have about 300,000 individuals in Arkansas without a high school diploma, so I look forward to you all helping us provide some guidance and give us some ideas of what we can do to bring people back into education. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Great. Thank you very much. Next? If you’ll introduce yourself?
Barker Gov’s staff: Jamie Barker with the Governor’s Office. I’m running the legislative affairs team and this– oh, do you want to introduce yourself?
Warbington Gov’s staff: I’m Morgan Warbington, education policy for Governor Sanders.
Barker Gov’s staff: So we’ll be working with y’all on anything education. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Great. Thank you very much for being here today. Anyone else? Dr. Hernandez? Mr. Jordan, you’ll be up next–
Hernandez AAEA: Good morning. My name’s Dr. Mike Hernandez, the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators. So have a background in teaching, superintendency. Actually worked for the Department of Education and now at the Association, but just looking forward to working with you guys and supporting our common mission of helping students. So thank you.
Jordan ASBA: My name is Dan Jordan, and I’m the director of governmental relations for the Arkansas School Boards Association. We’re just a couple of blocks down Capitol Avenue here. We work for just over 1,400 school members scattered all across the state in 14 regions. I have with me today Lucas Harder. You may hear his name some, and you’ll see him with me at the Capitol here often. He heads up and then directs, actually, the model policy service that all districts in the state use for model policy after you, as legislature, create and craft and actually approve bills. Happy to be here today. I left a one-pager with Emily, and I think I see that in some of your desks and I won’t go into that. That’s just some things about our organization so you know who we are, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity to share. Thank you. Anything to say, Lucas? Okay.
Rep Evans: Mr. Williams?
Williams DHS: Well, good morning, members. My name is Jeff Williams with the Department of Human Services. Our focus primarily for this committee is going to be at reference to early childhood education. We’ll be partnering with the Department of Education in a lot of the work that will be coming before this committee. And we’re happy to answer any questions. Most of you know me. You have my contact information. So feel free to reach out about anything you may have a question on. Thank you.
Rep Evans: He’s a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Williams. Thank you for your continued service. Mr. Copeland?
Copeland AREA: Good morning. My name’s Dennis Copeland. I’m the director of the Arkansas Rural Ed Association. Have seen a lot of you. Appreciate your service to the state, and we are all in this together and it’s going to be a good session and we’re looking forward to working with you. And anything we can do to help, we’ll definitely try to do that. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Thank you for your representation of our rural schools. Miss Fleming.
Fleming AEA: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Carol Fleming. I am a school-based speech language pathologist currently serving as president of the Arkansas Education Association, the professional organization that has been representing public school educators since 1869, and we are all together to support our children to prepare them to live and succeed in an interdependent and diverse world. But when we talk about education, I want to make sure that we’re not only talking about the classroom teachers. We have to talk about all educators. It takes every single educator to prepare our children and to support them, and that starts with the school bus drivers who are the first and the last individuals to see our children. So when you’re considering legislation, please consider all educators who have a stake in preparing our children and supporting them. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Thank you, Miss Fleming.
Allen (Philander Smith”: Good morning. I’m Dr. Charity Smith Allen. I am the dean at Philander Smith College. At Philander Smith College, we educate educators. Philander Smith is a historical institution. It was designed to educate former slaves. We now have 100% pass rate on the Praxis exam. We believe in educating all of our students. Our goal is excellence. Excellence is a result of caring more than others think is wise and risking more than others think is saved, doing more than others think is practical, and expecting more than others think is possible. At Philander Smith, I represent my students. They’re here today. You will see them because we believe in experiential learning. We believe in leadership, licensure, and learning. Thank you so much.
Rep Evans: Thank you, ma’am. Mr. Newton? Allison, you’ll be next.
Newton: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, members of the committee. My name is Gary Newton. I’m with Arkansas Learns, which is the voice of consumers of education. We are guided by our core principles of student focus, transparency, accountability, rewards, and choice in education. Thank you for your service.
Rep Evans: Thank you, sir.
Greenwood ASTA: Good morning. I’m Allison Greenwood, the executive director for the Arkansas State Teachers Association. We are a state chapter of the Association of American Educators. We are a non-union, non-partisan association that serves all school employees, so we have nurses, bus drivers, teachers, administrators. If you get a paycheck from an educational entity, you can be a part of ASTA. We are so excited to be here and about this team and working with you and doing everything we can to support educators. And this is our new director of legal services, Amy Douglas, and Amy, you can–
Douglas ASTA: Nice to meet you all. I’m excited about working with you. I am an attorney. I have been working with the Department of Ed for the three years prior, so I’m looking forward to working with y’all in this capacity as well.
Greenwood ASTA: Thank you.
Rep Evans: Thank you for being here today. Did I leave out anyone? Mr. Cox?
Cox (Family Council): Thank you, Mr. Chair, members of the committee. We are so looking forward to working with each of you as we have for many years out here. I’m Jerry Cox. I’m an executive director of Family Council. But in my capacity here, I’ll be representing a division of Family Council called the Education Alliance, and the Education Alliance works with homeschool families across the state. Altogether, Department of Ed, I believe, tells me that there are a little over 30,000 students who are taught at home, that are homeschooled. And of that group, we have about 4,000 families that are part of the Education Alliance network around the state. And so with me is Luke McCoy, who you’ll probably see out here a good bit. Also, Charisse Dean and Erin Hogan work with our team. And so once again, we’re just looking forward to working with everybody. Glad to be here. Thank you.
Rep Evans: Thank you, gentlemen. I think that’s everyone that’s kind of looked at me and gave me that nod. So we thank you very much for being here, all of you, who are so vested and spent a great deal of your lives advocating for kids and for education in the state of Arkansas. And before we adjourn, I’d be remiss if I didn’t do this because I know that many of you here have had a relationship with– Representative Cozart has sat in this chair for, I mean, since I was like [laughter]– well, I was going to say since I was in elementary school, [laughter] but I can’t think of anyone who has done a more admirable job over the last X-number of years, who has dedicated himself 365 days out of the year to lead the charge in this committee and to try to represent each of our members that have served here and to you as shareholders, but most importantly, to our educational facilities across the state. So would you please give him just a thankful round of applause? [applause]
Rep Evans: As we choose our committees by seniority, he is in the top five, six, seven in seniority in the House right now, a ranking member, and he could’ve chosen any committee that he wanted to be on. But without hesitation, again, he chose to be here as a part of us. And so we’re very grateful for your commitment, Bruce. And Representative Meeks, the ranking member in the House of Representatives, seniority number one, is– do you want to just stand and if you’ll introduce yourself just to give a little bit of your background to those in attendance?
Rep Meeks: All right. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Apologize for my tardiness. Had a doctor’s appointment this morning. So I’m Representative Stephen Meeks. I’m, I think, the senior member here on the committee. I’ve been involved with the Education Committee since 2013, and so looking forward to continuing my service on the committee. I represent District 42, which is Greenbrier up to Fairfield Bay, so the north central part of our state. When I’m not a state representative, I have a side business that I operate, the Arkansas SkyDome Planetarium, which is a program that visits schools across the state trying to get kids interested in math and science. And over the years, it’s given me the opportunity to visit dozens of schools across our state to see the schools firsthand and talk to our educators and interact with the kids, and I think I enjoy that probably more than this. [laughter] But it does give me some great insight into how things are going across the state, and I look forward to bringing that knowledge to this committee and serving with everybody here. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Meeks. Members, we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of high-priority issues for this session, and I am ecstatic to be able to work with each of you. Please stay in close communication. Monitor your emails regularly. I do know that Emily is working on scheduling our committee photo. So we will, as soon as possible, give you as much notice. If you want to fix your hair, color your hair, decide which outfit– Bruce– you want to wear that day, we will be doing that. I see Representative Hodges has just joined us. Grant, would you take just a moment to introduce yourself to everyone? Give a little bit about your background.
Rep Hodges: Sure. Grant Hodges. A few years older than last time I was here, but still late as usual, so apologize for that. This is my fourth term on the Education Committee. I’ve been lucky to be here every one of my terms. I represent District 14, which is part of Benton County, Centerton, part of Bentonville. What else? I work at Northwest Arkansas Community College in the administration, so privileged to get to work in education at our state’s largest community college. And just happy to be back on education, and I look forward to a great session with y’all.
Rep Evans: What was the statement you made yesterday? You were a recovering–?
Rep Hodges: I was a recovering politician who relapsed.
Rep Evans: He had a relapse, [laughter] and he has come back to join us here in education. So with that, thank you all for being here. We are adjourned.