House Education

Jan. 19, 2023

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Rep Evans: So we will get our meeting started. It’s good to see everyone here this morning. Appreciate so much all of our stakeholders in education that have chosen to be here and join us today. Members, in front of you on your desk, you have a one pager white sheet regarding fiscal impact requirements. We had announced in our last meeting regarding the addition of fiscal impact statements with Higher Ed. There was a little bit of vagueness in the language, and so staff and I and the Senate chair met with BLR earlier this week and we broke it down word for word through the rule that was passed, and this is a real brief summary explanation as to what is involved with Higher Ed, and it is strictly anything pertaining to lottery-funded scholarships. So if you’re not doing anything regarding lottery-funded scholarship with Higher Ed, then you will not be burdened with the fiscal impact statement. So we’re going to start hearing bills today, and we will start off with Representative Berry. You are here and you’re recognized to present your bill, House Bill 1017.


HB 1017 Allowing school employees leave for emergency services activities

Rep M Berry: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, colleagues.  This is a relatively simple bill. Representative Mark Berry, District 26. Relatively simple bill. Of course, I said simple. Simple didn’t go over very well across the hall in my other bill. So maybe this one go a little easier. And all this is doing it is amending the law that will allow certain public service employees leave of absence in an emergency, and rescue services, and where this comes up is when we had the great flood here recently, some of the Civil Air Patrol people that fly along the river to take assessments of the flooding were not allowed to take leave for that emergency service. So this is just adding employees of a school district to the existing law. I’d be happy to take any questions, Mr. Chairman.


Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Berry. Is there any questions by the committee? I don’t believe anyone signed up to speak for or against this bill, but I will extend that courtesy. Does anyone in the audience maybe that did not sign up would like to speak for or against the bill? Hearing none, seeing no questions by the committee, Representative Berry, would you like to close for your bill?


Rep M Berry: I’m closed. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Rep Evans: All right. I have a motion to pass by Representative Cozart. Thank you, Representative Painter. What are the wishes of the committee? All in favor say aye. Opposed nay. Motion passed. Congratulations, Representative Berry, you’ve passed your bill.


Rep M Berry: Thank you, Chairman. Thank you colleagues.


HB 1030 Setting district rules for foreign exchange students

Rep Evans: Yes, sir. Next, we will hear House Bill 1030 by Representative Meeks. Members, without objection, I will ask for your leniency to operate a little bit from a flexible agenda today. We’ve got some members that are kind of running back and forth. Some of them are tied up in another committee or they’re going to be, and so I may skip around a little bit. And we’re going to push some of these off until next week. But Representative Meeks, you are recognized to present your bill, House Bill 1030.


Rep Meeks: All right, good morning, colleagues. So this morning, I’m going to present House Bill 1030 to you. One of the opportunities and privileges that we have as lawmakers is whenever we see an issue is we have the ability to address and to fix that issue. And that’s what brings us to House Bill 1030. So a little bit of a backstory. Late last year, it was actually about this time last year, my wife and I decided to host an international exchange student. And if you’ve never done that, I would encourage you to do so. It has been a very rewarding experience for our family. When we first brought the exchange– or were trying to bring the exchange student over, according to federal law, they do have to attend public school. And so we collected and sent all the paperwork to the local school. And we didn’t hear anything, didn’t hear anything, didn’t hear anything. And I was getting worried that maybe the school was going to reject and not allow the exchange student in. And so being a lawmaker, I went to BLR and asked them to research this. Is a local school district allowed to reject a foreign exchange student, or what is the current status of the law? Thankfully, it turned out to be a non issue. It was just my local school district has a policy for how they accept new students. This student was treated no different than any other student that was moving new into the district. And as any government Bureaucracy, it just took time, right. And so she was accepted. We had a great experience, and she returned home and fell in love with Arkansas while she was here.


Rep Meeks: The results, though, came back that the law is kind of fuzzy on this issue about whether a school district should or should not take the exchange student. However, the Bureau did a little more digging, and they found that there are two Attorney General’s opinions that have looked into this question. And I have copies of it here, and if anybody would like to peruse the copy of it, you’re more than welcome to. And the most recent opinion actually came from no less than our former governor, Mike Beebe. So this was back when he was the Attorney General of the state. And I’m not going to go into a whole lot of this. I’m just going to read one or two sections here. But it says, according to Arkansas code, provides that under the penalty for non compliance as set forth by law, every parent, guardian, or other person residing within the state of Arkansas having custody or charge of any child age 5 through 17 on or before September 15 of that year shall enroll and send this child to a public, private, or parochial school or provide a homeschool for the child as described within the current code.


Rep Meeks: So the Attorney General and his predecessor both said this statute is drafted to focus on a public school district’s obligation to accept children to the school, but focuses rather on the obligation of the parent or other person having charge of the child to send that child to school or provide a homeschool. Nonetheless, it is my opinion that if a foreign exchange student meets all the criteria for eligibility to attend school in a particular district, including age, residency, etc., and makes application to attend the public school, he or she should be admitted by the school district. And then it goes on. There’s other questions about can a school district limit the number of foreign exchange students. The answer to that is no. So under the current interpretation of the law, a public school district has to accept every foreign exchange student that comes to them.


Rep Meeks: But because the law is fuzzy in this regard, I felt that it prudent to go ahead and to clarify the law so that everybody knows what the obligations are, because there is still confusion among our school districts about whether or not a school district must or can accept these students. As I understand, there’s some school districts that have made a local policy that say we’re not going to accept any. The Attorney General’s opinion addressed that and said, no, they can’t do that. Some school districts have said we’re only going to take seven. According to this opinion, they can’t do that. Some school districts, well, we had a bad experience with a kid from Germany. So we’re not going to take kids from Germany anymore. According to this, they can’t do that. So that’s what my attempt was. And in order to make this law as simple as possible, when we got to this point, it’s just a clarifying law, to clarify what’s already in the AG opinion and precedent in court cases. I started back in the fall. I had the language drafted, sent it to the Department of Education, I filed the bill weeks ago, the Department of Education looked at it, they had no real concerns with the bill. They thought it was okay.


Rep Meeks: The only concern that they raised was the same concern they would have with any other new student coming into a district. If you had an issue with capacity that would force them to say, I have to hire another English teacher. That was the only concern they would raise. And they would be the same concern that they would have if I moved to Quitman and my child was the one who triggered that. I filed it three weeks ago, talked to some of our lobbyist groups. Everybody was cool with it. But as a lawmaker, you know how frustrating this is. You dot every I, you cross every T, everything looks great. You’ve invited your witnesses, which I have not introduced yet. I’m going to do that here in a second. I apologize to her. And then you get a phone call like an hour before committee and says, hey, we’ve got a concern about your bill. Even though it’s been out there for three weeks, plenty of time, very, very frustrating. It kind of goes back to that no good deed goes unpunished, right?


Rep Meeks: And so what I’m going to do is I’m going to introduce my guest, and she’s actually brought some other guests that I would like for you all to meet this morning. And then we’re going to talk about the concerns and how we move forward with what we’re trying to accomplish here with the bill. So with me this morning is Amanda Sharp. She is actually the local coordinator that worked with me and my family on our program. She’s from Education, Travel, and Culture. But I’ll let her introduce herself further and the guests that she brought with her.


Sharp: I am a local coordinator and I’ve been doing this for about two years. I’ve hosted three children myself, and I’m awaiting the fourth, even though I was trying to take a break. I brought three of my students with me. I have Candela from–


Rep Meeks: If y’all would go ahead and stand up so I can see y’all.


Sharp: Daniela from Spain, and then Giuseppe, and I said that wrong. He’s going to get me. From Italy.


Rep Meeks: And so these are foreign exchange students visiting Arkansas. I guess, Giuseppe, you’ve only been here a week, and the two ladies have been here since the summer. So we appreciate you all joining us today. So these are the kind of students that we encourage and we want to come to our state, because when they come to Arkansas, just like us, they fall in love with Arkansas, then they go back to their home countries and they are our best ambassadors in those countries. So we want to definitely encourage this program. So getting back to the specifics of the bill, what I’ve done here is basically outlined what the Attorney General opinion said, is that a public school has to accept the foreign exchange students from certified public exchange programs. So a student can’t just come over and say, hey, I’m going to go to– you can’t do that. It has to be actually part of a certified public exchange program.


Rep Meeks: These programs are heavily regulated through the federal government and heavily coordinated. Some protections that we’ve added to the schools that they currently do not have is I added the ability for a school to force the student to quarantine for seven days. You all know where that’s coming from, right? So the school can ask for a 7-day quarantine or longer if there’s a CDC guideline that makes that recommendation. So y’all may remember back during COVID, it was like a 14-day. So at that point, they could do a 14-day quarantine. The other thing that we added for protections to the school is that these students have to abide by the same rules and policies of the school district as every other student. So if these students violate the written policy of that school district, just like any other student, they can be disciplined or expelled, and oftentimes, if that ever happens, these students are being sent back home. And Miss Amanda, if you have any further questions about that, she can answer them, but they’re pretty strict on the behavior code that these students have to.


Rep Meeks: The other provision I added is if the student creates a danger to the student body, then the school can also expel them. So I’ve added a couple of different protections within this. Now, this morning, I had a couple of concerns brought to me, and this is where the frustration comes in, that there are agencies out there that are bad actors. Under current Arkansas law, or under this current revision, the school district still has to take those. One of the requirements that’s also in some of the– I think it’s in the federal provisions, the students have to be able to speak English when they come here. All the students that are here, they speak fluent English. But there’s some bad actors that send students over that don’t meet the English requirement. And now it puts the burden on the school district to be able to provide those services to that student. And if it’s a common language like Spanish, generally the schools are equipped to handle that. But if it’s a country that we don’t have a lot of, then it can create a burden for that school district. So that concern was brought up. Now, there was another concern about some school districts have that they could be overrun. I think I heard this morning that one of the school districts was looking at getting 30 to 40 new exchange students. Which is great. But then that creates the issue for having extra teaching. Now, these exchange students, they count as FTE towards the school. So if they get 40 new kids, they’re also going to get about $250,000 extra to help cover that cost from the state because those are FTEs. But so there’s kind of some questions there. So what I want to do is I’m going to open it up to the committee to see what questions you have, and then we will decide how to proceed from there. So, Mr. Chairman, I will turn it back over to you to go to the committee.


Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Meeks. We’ll go to questions. Representative Beck, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Beck: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think you’ve done a good job with it. And you’ve covered a lot of the bases. The one thing that I– and I might have just missed this, you said there were some schools that did not want to take any foreign exchange students. My concern would be is, does the legislation address an issue that– could the local control of the school district actually create hurdles that are not directly pointed towards a foreign exchange student but would make it to where they couldn’t be accepted into their school?


Rep Meeks: So–


Rep Beck: Without saying it’s against something.


Rep Meeks: Right, right, right. So in other words, the school district make a policy directed at the foreign exchange students, but not directed at the foreign exchange student. From what the Attorney General said here, the answer to that is no. Does that mean the school districts won’t do that? Some are doing it now. Some have said they’re not taking any foreign exchange students, where it said, according to the interpretation of current law, they’re supposed to. So that’s part of the reason why I’m trying to clear this up, so that way there’s no confusion going forward.


Rep Beck: Quick follow up?


Rep Evans: You’re recognized for your follow-up.


Rep Beck: So you will be looking at that and trying to close that loophole up for us so we don’t get into that. Thank you.


Rep Evans: Representative Flowers, you’re recognized for your question.


Rep Flowers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Meeks, just with regard to the concerns that you mentioned, the language, the bad actors. Isn’t that something that already exists?


Rep Meeks: Theoretically, yes. And Miss Sharp maybe could answer that a little bit better, but the way this is drafted, and I may tighten this language up a little bit, is the exchange student must belong to a recognized exchange program. And as you can imagine, that’s fairly heavily regulated by the federal government and the department and the federal Department of Education. The problem is, is that you have some of these groups that are registered, but then when the kid gets here, they basically abandon them, or they don’t follow up with them. Hopefully, she doesn’t mind me sharing this, but they had a exchange student come over as part of another program that came to their school and basically got abandoned. And so they actually kind of adopted that student with their group and organizations and things they do. I’ve heard of instances where once the student got here, they could no longer contact the agency to share any concerns, and then it was just, again, they got abandoned over here. And I would hope in those circumstances that they would be reported and that would be dealt with appropriately. But unfortunately, that also puts the school in a bad position where they’ve got a child, and the child’s with a host family, so it’s not just the school. But this burden has been placed on the school, and there’s no support around that child like there is supposed to be.


Rep Flowers: Well, and I just asked that question because it sounds like that’s something that has nothing to do with this bill.


Rep Meeks: So yeah, you’re correct. Indirectly, it doesn’t. But since we’re telling every school that they have to take these students, if there’s a way we can empower the schools a little bit, because right now they don’t have that. But if there’s a way we can empower the schools a little bit, make a good bill even better.


Rep Flowers: Great. Okay.


Rep Meeks: So we may not be able to, but if there’s a way to do it, I’d like to try.


Rep Flowers: And quick follow up, Mr. Chair?


Rep Evans: You’re recognized.


Rep Flowers: And then as far as the second concern you mentioned with regard to overrun, I’m wondering based on federal regulations that you mentioned there that exist, is there some sort of limit on the number of students that can come into the country via exchange or something like that? And I guess my question would be wouldn’t that be something that would be regulated through the organizations that are certified to do this?


Rep Meeks: Yeah, so on the base level, no, there’s no limit. The limiting factor is going to be how many people within that community are willing to host a student.


Rep Meeks: A community like mine of Greenbrier or Heber Springs, you’re not going to have 300 families suddenly decide that they’re going to host. It’s just not going to happen. Yeah, you can testify to this. In a small community like Greenbrier, you’re probably going to get 5, 10 families, realistically, that are going to be willing to do this. And so that will probably– that aspect of it will regulate itself for the most part. Is it possible you might get an outlier there where you have a year or two where you get a– sure, I guess, it’s possible. But generally speaking, that shouldn’t be an issue. And these kids are all high school students. And so in most classes, if a student wanted to take a physics class and the class was full, class is full, they just have to pick something else. I had my foreign exchange student from Italy last year. There was a class she wanted to take. It was full. You just picked something else. The only requirement is that they have to take an English class and some form of American government class. So the English class is really the only class where there is a concern about having enough teachers. English classes are taught six, seven times a day. And so most cases, it’s just, well, the second-period class is full. So you’re going to have to go to the third or fourth and most time that can be worked around. It’s only going to be in the most extreme situation where every single class is full and it just so happens that these two foreign exchanges are the tipping point. And that’s going to be rare.


Rep Flowers: Thank you.


Rep Evans: Representative McKenzie, you’re recognized for your question.


Rep McKenzie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. For someone like myself who doesn’t have a ton of background on recognized certified exchange programs, can you dive in– your witness or yourself Representative Meeks– what the process is like for onboarding? What does it take for a family to become a part of this exchange program? How long of a process is it? Just kind of a cursory understanding.


Sharp: Do you want me to take that? So when family comes to me and they want to host, they fill out an application online and it also includes a criminal background check because we want to make sure we’re putting these children in safe environments. And then we send a paper to the high school that their district in, to ask permission for them to accept the student into their school. Our children can not come at all until I have that letter from the school. They have to be accepted into a school before they’re even told that, “Hey, you have a host family.” So after all that is done, I go into their home. I do a quick interview where I see the home. I make sure it’s a good living environment. And then after all that’s processed, then they’re approved. And then the child contacts the family and they get to know each other before they arrive. With our organization, we are very strict. We oversee our students; we have to see them in person once a month. We have to go into their homes every other month. Every month I have to do a form, asking certain questions to make sure that they’re happy in their home, nothing’s upsetting them. We are really hands-on with our exchange students. We do monthly activities. We’re going ice skating and roller skating on Saturday. So we do a lot of fun things with them. I also am always talking with the schools, especially the school district. I actually work for a school district. And I work very closely with our exchange students. So if anything pops up, they will come to me and say, “Hey, we’re having an issue.” Because we want to take care of that immediately. Not all are like that, unfortunately. Department of State, because we’re all regulated by Department of State, says that we have to go see them one time a year, or one time a semester. So as long as that’s being done, we’re in the realms of Department of State. But I know our organization, which is actually has a full listing with the council of standards for international education travel. We are recognized by that, and we have higher standards. And that might be something that if we need to word it into the bill, that they need to be part of this organization that has the higher standards.


Rep Meeks: And on top of that, they provided several hours’ worth of training for my family and myself. They do the same for the students when they get here, provide training for the students to make sure they know what to expect, how our customs are different from their customs. They’re constantly monitoring their grades. If their grades slip, she’s talking to them, looking at hiring tutors. So this organization does it right. And so we want to make sure to try to encourage that if at all possible.


Rep Evans: Thank you. Representative Fite, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep C Fite: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Meeks, thank you for bringing this bill. I feel like this is something that needs to be clarified. My husband and I had an exchange student many years back. And the local school district did not want to accept her even though she was living in our home and we were property taxpayers in the school district who had never put a child in that school district until this child who we considered our own living in our home. I’m wondering if we could clarify that these students will not be receiving English as language learners services. If that might help things, if we made that very clear that they will be– they will not qualify for those services.


Rep Meeks: Yeah. I don’t see why not because, like I said, they’re supposed to, I think, and you may know on your part that they have to– or maybe let me just have you talk about that. What are the English qualifications for them to even participate?


Sharp: So our kids have to take a test and they have to score a certain level of comprehension of English before they’re even accepted into the program. I know a lot of schools now, when they get here, they have them do the ESL test. And they do offer some services to our students, but I actually tell the students that, “No, you’re here to learn.” So we tell our students that, “No, you can not have those extra services because you should already be at that level when you come.” It’s not like they’ve come here and they don’t know English. Most of them have had anywhere from five to eight years of English classes in their countries.


Rep Evans: Representative Vaught, you’re recognized.


Rep Vaught: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m agree with Representative Flowers. I think that would fix your bad actors.


Rep Meeks: Yeah, I like that suggestion. Why don’t we make it do that?


Rep Vaught: But my question is, will these students be required to take the Arkansas state testing? And if so, does those tests count against our schools in what they make on those tests?


Rep Meeks: That’s a good question.


Sharp: That is a good question. I have not looked into that, but yes, they do take the standardized testing that our students have. But for the most part, our students are A, B students. And it would actually only improve scores because most of– they are required to have a C. So they study. And most of them get here and they’re like, “Oh, wow, I don’t have to study four hours when I get home?” Not that our education system is lacking. It’s just that they just don’t have to do as much studying here.


Rep Vaught: And I hear what you’re saying. I understand. But I think it’s something that needs to be looked at. I really do, because I don’t think any school here should be accountable for a student that comes from a different country. It’s just a suggestion.


Rep Meeks: Well taken.


Rep Evans: Representative Duke, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Duke: Thank you, Mr. Chair. You have addressed a lot of the concerns that I have had raised from my school district or one of the school districts which I represent. I come from a school district that’s been very open with exchange students. They’ve enriched our kids. They’ve enriched my children, particularly. But those concerns are very troubling to people in my district and to myself as well. And I think that it would be better served to have these laid out and addressed, whether it’s going to be oftentimes they don’t come with their paperwork. And that’s kind of an issue. And you addressed the bad actors, and they are there. My concern is oftentimes the people at the local level know these situations faster than we do at the state level. And not all organizations are the same or deal with things. And if we take away the flexibility from local school boards to be able to address the issues that they see, which most of what you said is exactly what I heard from our local school district, I think that that’s problematic. I think that we need to have local control and we need to have local school boards need to have the ability to look at things. They can come before the school board and address those issues, which we’ve had that as well. And so wouldn’t you think it would be good to get that kind of hammered out and addressed to where we have some local controls still with these school boards to have some flexibility if they need to maybe say this organization, maybe on the approved list. But it’s not an organization that has proven to do their kids right because it does come down to what’s best for those kids. All of them. Thank you.


Rep Meeks: Yeah. And I don’t disagree with that. Like I said, under the current interpretation of the law, none of that flexibility is there. And so that’s why at this point, I think it’s prudent to continue to look at that.


Rep Evans: You’re recognized for a follow-up.


Rep Duke: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Is there a reason why not to do that in this piece right now? Are you going to be able to incorporate those pieces to where there is a flexibility option for that local school board to say no, even if the state has said yes, because they know that need better?


Rep Meeks: We’ll have to mull that piece over. Because sometimes there are schools that are just going to say no just because they don’t want the hassle. And I don’t want to create that flexibility. If the student is here, I want the school to take the student. If it’s a quality organization, quality student, I want the school to take that student. So I don’t want the– I don’t want to give the school boards the carte blanche just to say, “No, we’re not going to take anybody.” But if there’s a way we can figure out to say no to the bad actors, sure. You bet. I don’t want to throw the good out because we’re trying to stop the bad. Does that make sense?


Rep Evans: I’ll put you back in the queue.


Rep Duke: Thank you.


Rep Evans: Representative Long, you’re recognized.


Rep Long: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Representative Meeks, I was wondering, have you had any feedback from children that have been placed in these schools that didn’t want them? Because that was one thing that went through my mind was are these children basically being treated badly because they were forced into the school and school basically, “You’re here. We don’t have to like it.” And maybe it doesn’t treat them in a welcoming fashion.


Rep Meeks: I have not heard of any. Have you?


Sharp: I have not.


Rep Meeks: No, I think probably in most cases, once these students get into the school and they get to know the students and all that, it’s a wonderful experience for everybody involved. So I don’t think that– I’ve not heard of any issues along those lines. And maybe to flesh that out a little bit further. Every once in a while, the background checks are done. When we decided to host, we get this whole long list of students that are wanting to come over and we read through their profiles and we try to pick the student that’s the best for our family. And sometimes it doesn’t work out or there’s a family that’s a better fit for that student and the student moves to that other family. And so that does happen from time to time. But generally, after that’s all settled down, it’s a great experience going forward.


Rep Evans: Representative Duke, you’re back up.


Rep Duke: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m good. I don’t need to ask a question. Thank you.


Rep Evans: Okay. Any other questions from the committee? Seeing none–


Rep Meeks: Mr. Chairman I think Representative Vaught wants to have another shot at me.


Rep Evans: Representative Vaught. You’re recognized.


Rep Vaught: No, I’m sorry. I’m also wondering about maybe moving up the date to May 1st just for budgeting purposes for schools that are budgeting out.


Rep Meeks: So I think the reason why– I think there’s a September 15th in there, I think the reason why that’s in there is because that’s the standard for all students.


Sharp: Okay. Department of State?


Rep Meeks: Yeah, and it’s the Department of State. So I think, yeah. So I think that’s a matching other standards that are in code.


Rep Vaught: Okay. Thank you.


Rep Meeks: And that doesn’t mean that that limits it because they do have– there are students that come over for a semester in the spring. So like the young man from Italy, he just got here. So his paperwork would have come over end of December, first of January to come into the school for the semester.


Rep Vaught: Follow up.


Rep Evans: You’re recognized for your follow-up.


Rep Vaught: Thank you. I think if a student is going from Horatio to De Queen, though, I think that date is like in May which also helps with the budgeting. That’s what I’m talking about. So if I move my student from Horatio to De Queen that there’s a deadline in which that has to be done by. And I think that same deadline needs to be applied here.


Rep Meeks: And that deadline may be for a school choice situation. And these are not school choice situations.


Rep Vaught: No, I understand, but it’s still a budgeting issue, and that’s why I’m asking. Thank you.


Rep Evans: Thank you for that.


Rep Meeks: I’ll ask about that. I’m not seeing how that would work out.


Rep Evans: Seeing no other questions from the committees, anyone here wants to speak for or against the bill. Seeing none, Representative Beck, you’re recognized.


Rep Beck: Motion do pass.


Rep Evans: We have a motion do pass by Representative Beck. I’m sorry, Representative Meeks, did you want to close for your bill?


Rep Meeks: Yes, sir, if I can. I appreciate that–


Rep Evans: Representative Beck, I’m going to hold your motion.


Rep Beck: Thank you.


Rep Meeks: So I appreciate that the strong support that the committee has shown this morning and I think Representative Beck if I proceeded with that, we would probably get the yes vote to pass it out to the floor. But what I would like to do first is, I’m going to pull this down, and I want to try to address some of the concerns that were mentioned this morning. I wanted to go ahead and present the bill so we could make you all familiar with it. And let’s get y’alls input on it. So we’ve had a lot of good input from our discussions this morning. So I do want to go ahead and pull the bill down, see if we can address some of these concerns because, like I said, the bill was basically just telling school districts they have to do what’s already in code. But if we have the opportunity to make it better to try to stop some of the bad actors and to put some more protections in place both for the students and the school district, I think it’s prudent to do that at this time. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to go ahead and pull the bill down, not ask for a vote today. Visit with the stakeholders a little bit more who I would encourage in the future to try to hit me earlier than two hours before the committee meeting. But visit with them a little bit further and see if we can make a good bill even better for our school districts and bring it back to you maybe next week or the week after. And at that time, just zip right through it.


Rep Evans: Thank you.


Rep Meeks: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Rep Evans: You want to hold your motion Representative Beck? Thank you.  Representative Meeks, thank you. You have been very informative, a lot of information there and appreciate your willingness to answer the questions of the committee. To the students that are here with us today, welcome to Arkansas. We’re very happy to have you here and thank you for being a part of the exchange program in our state. Members, we’re going to pass over house bill 1091, 1112, and 1113 today. We will go to the last bill on our agenda. Representative Vaught, you’re recognized to present House Bill 1122.


HB 1122 Adjusting the school calendar starting date

Rep Vaught: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Can I proceed?


Rep Evans: You may proceed.


Rep Vaught: Thank you. Just didn’t want to talk out of turn, sir. So last session, we passed a bill about the school calendar. It ended up really not being very effective for our schools. And so lots of supers started reaching out and asking for us to please fix the calendar back because it just helped them so much more than what the current calendar was helping. So all we’re doing is reverting this back to the language that was there before for our school districts. And I’ll take any questions.


Rep Evans: Representative Vaught, has explained her bill. Representative Garner, you’re recognized for a question.


Rep Garner: I just have one question. And I know we’ve talked about this. Would you explain to the committee that those superintendents who want to add or those principals who want to add the extra two days, how they need to do that so that the teachers and students will have two days at Halloween or whatever?


Rep Vaught: Yeah. So from what I understand, just from what I understand, the alternative calendar is still in place. This does not take away the alternative calendar. And it doesn’t take away the four-day week calendar either. So it doesn’t touch either one of those from what I understand. This is just reverting it back to what schools used to do before we changed it.  Thank you.


Rep Evans: Representative McKenzie, you’re recognized.


Rep McKenzie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Can you just describe some more of the discomfort, a little bit more in detail what superintendents were saying?


Rep Vaught: Okay, so I think in my area, kids were having to take their semester test after Christmas instead of before Christmas because of the way the calendar was set up. So it’s an inconvenience for those students to go to Christmas, come back, and then have to take a test that they’ve been away from school with for two weeks. So this would help them be able to take those tests right on time how they used to take them right before Christmas. That’s probably one of the biggest issues I do believe with the way the calendar when we swapped it, that it truly affected. Yes.


Rep Evans: Any other questions from the committee? Representative Garner. No question. All right. Anyone in the audience like to speak for or against? Seeing none, Representative Vaught, would you like to close for your bill?


Rep Vaught: I would like to close for my bill and motion do pass.


Rep Evans: As a member of the committee, you have made a motion do pass. All those in favor say aye. Opposed nay. Motion passes. Congratulations, you passed your bill.


Rep Vaught: Thank you committee.


Rep Evans: Members, that’s all that’s on our agenda for today. Thank you all for coming, and we will see everyone next week. We are adjourned.