House Education 

February 14, 2023  

Rep Evans: different members that are not on the Committee that need to get to other committees and present bills. Seeing no objection. We’re going to first take up House Bill 1383. Speaker Shepherd, you are recognized.

Rep Shepherd: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. With the Chair’s permission, I’d like to ask Dr. Bentley Wallace, the President of South Arkansas Community College to join me at the end of the table.

Rep Evans: Certainly. Mr. Wallace, if you would just introduce yourself for the record and then, Speaker Shepherd, you’re recognized to present your bill.

Wallace (SACC) : Good morning, Mr. Chair. My name is Bentley Wallace and I’m the President of South Arkansas Community College.

Rep Evans: Speaker Shepherd.

Rep Shepherd: Mr. Chair, members. This bill is pretty simple and straightforward. It basically just proposes a name change from South Arkansas Community College to South Arkansas College. This is something that the college approached me about and asked if I would run the name, which they think more accurately reflects the impact of the college in South Arkansas. And in terms of addressing educational needs of students across South Central and Southern Arkansas. Dr. Wallace can speak more to the specifics on that, but this is something that the college themselves have asked for.

Wallace (SACC): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The name change is really not a rolling scope change. We’re not changing who we are as a college. We’re not changing the way we serve employers and K-12 partners and students and their parents. It really is a reflection of who we are as a regional provider of high-quality workforce preparation. We’ve seen other colleges in the state make this same move. It’s productive in helping students and their parents consider our college as a viable option when they may otherwise see our name as a barrier for accessing the college, just because of perception of who we are. So this is really about our future students and recognition of the great work that our faculty and staff do.

Rep Evans: Members, any questions by the Committee? Seeing none. Is there anyone signed up to speak for or against the bill? Miss Kathy says there is not. Speaker Shepherd, ready to close for your bill?

Rep Shepherd: I would like to mention that Representative Barker is a co-sponsor on this bill as well as Senator Stone, who is the lead sponsor on the senate end. So it has the support of the legislative delegation from Union County. Thank you. I’d appreciate a do pass motion. Appreciate y’all’s—

Rep Evans: Representative Barker, you’re recognized. We have a motion do pass. Is there any discussion on the motion? Hearing none. All those in favor of the motion say aye. Opposed nay? Congratulations, Speaker Shepherd, your bill has passed. Members, we are now going to go to, we’re going to go to our special order of business. House Bill 1192. Representative Eubanks, you are recognized to present your bill.

Rep Eubanks: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I actually thought the room would empty out after the Speaker presented his bill. Mr. Chairman, I have an amendment to this bill. Could we pass that out to the members if they don’t have it. 

Rep Evans: I think Miss Kathy is coming around to hand that out. Members, I’ll give you just a moment to look over that. Representative Eubanks, you’re recognized to explain your amendment.

Rep Eubanks: Thank you, Mr. Chair. This bill has been filed for quite some time and I made it known that I was open for suggestions, recommendations, as to how to make this more palatable and make it a good bill that people could possibly get behind. I met with members. I’ve talked with superintendents. I’ve talked with directors of, four directors of co-ops last week. And one subject that kept coming up was that they felt the need that there should be some superintendents on the co-op board. So what this amendment does, it allows two superintendents within the boundaries of the co-op district to be appointed to that board by the newly constituted board and after talking to the Speaker and my superintendent, it also allows for a two-year term where it’s rotating. So the superintendents in that area would get an opportunity to serve on it. My superintendent from Paris recommended that we needed one from a small school and one from a large school. So, as you can see it in there, it recommends that a superintendent from a 3A school or lower be on that board and a superintendent from a 4A school or larger be on the board. And that basically sums up the summary there on the amendment. 

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

Rep Cozart: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Eubanks, remind me. Are all co-ops have equal representation from a small school to a large school in each one of those 15 co-ops? Do they all have a large and a small school in those?

Rep Eubanks: In the makeup of their current board?

Rep Cozart: Yes.

Rep Eubanks: I don’t know. I just wanted to be able to allow for that so that there would be representation from small districts and large districts.

Rep Cozart: All right. My follow up question would be, so if they’re not– if they do not have a 1A, 2A, or a 3A school in their district, they’re all large, that means they would only have 1 superintendent on that board. Is that correct?

Rep Eubanks: No. I think it might require that I amend this bill again to allow for that. [laughter] But I understand what you’re saying, and you’re right. They shouldn’t be, if they don’t have any that fits that criteria, then yeah, there still is my intent to have 2 superintendents on the board.

Rep Cozart: Thank you.

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

Rep Walker: I just have one question. I wanted to make sure that this bill isn’t based off of hearsay or assumption. So do you have any fiscal data that shows us the best approach to improve co-ops?

Rep Eubanks: No. It’s just that I don’t feel.My motivation for running the bill was I felt like with the amount of money that goes through the 15 co-ops,  there’s approximately $150-plus million dollars and that’s made up of state, local, and federal money – that it might be good to have more transparency. Have people on that board that have a different perspective. We have a governor that’s just put forth an education plan that is bold and it’s transformative. And so it would seem like, because of where we are in education in the State of Arkansas, that maybe we should look at everything that we’re doing and be able to, like I said, have a different set of eyes on the operations of a co-op. The services that they’re offering and just, like I said, bring a different perspective.

Rep Evans: Representative Flowers, you’re recognized.

Rep V Flowers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Eubanks, I didn’t come to you because I was aware that there conversations happening about possible amendments and that you were working with the stakeholders in this case. I’m just wondering, though, for the different perspective that you’re trying to achieve. Could there not have been an action to add those perspectives versus remove any of the superintendents, given that then it forces a sort of competition among the superintendent stakeholders within that given district.

Rep Eubanks: Representative Flowers, remember we are talking about the amendment and not the actual bill.

Rep V Flowers: Well, I guess I’m asking why the amendment couldn’t reflect an addition of those stakeholders who were not already on the board versus removing someone.

Rep Eubanks: I thought I was trying to add stakeholders to the board without making the board so large that it just becomes difficult–

Rep V Flowers: I get you. Okay.

Rep Eubanks: –to manage.

Rep Evans: Representative Duke, you’re recognized.

Rep Duke: Thank you, Mr. Chair. And I’m not sure if I’m speaking to the amendment or not, so if I’m not I’m sure you’ll let me know. My question is, would you, I appreciate how you have tried to work with us, different concerns that we’ve had with that so thank you for that. Would you be willing on this amendment to make another amendment to open it up a little bit more? I think you know my concern and this may be the bill so I would like to have a little bit more of the local options for the local school boards on who they choose. So a few more superintendents or the option to add their superintendent.

Rep Eubanks: So you’re at– Mr. Chairman, can I address that?

Rep Evans: Yes, you may.

Rep Eubanks: Okay. So you’re asking that the school board be allowed, if they chose to, to appoint their superintendent. Is that your question?

Rep Duke: Yes.

Rep Eubanks: Okay.

Rep Duke: And I understand that may get away from a little bit of the diversity that you are trying to achieve, so I don’t know if there’s a happy medium somewhere in there.

Rep Eubanks: I don’t know that I’m opposed to that idea. Like I said from the very beginning, I was trying to get more diverse perspectives brought to the board. I talked to one former teacher that liked the idea that a former, or that a classroom teacher could be on that board. I mean, they’re the recipients of a lot of the services that the co-op provides. So they bring a different perspective to how well these programs are working and may have suggestions. And maybe in the past have never felt like their voice has been heard. I’ve always felt that when you have a board that’s made up of people with such a common background that people just approach things through the same lens too often. But I had a superintendent approach me that lives in my district and he took exception to the fact it, his comment was, superintendents know education and we know best. Well, okay, if that’s the case then why do we have school boards that are made up of people from the public? Why do we have an Education Committee that is not made up of all teachers or former superintendents or whatever the case may be. Because I think we need to hear from everybody’s perspective. But I’m not opposed. I don’t know that I’m opposed to that. I’d have to think about it some more, but it depends on what you guys do here today as to how I’m going to proceed. From the very beginning I’ve told everybody I’m open to suggestions. I took some of your suggestions. I took some of the suggestions from the directors. I didn’t go to the extent that they wanted, but I’m trying to meet people somewhere in the middle and then try to come up with something that is good for education. I had a member of this Committee want me to amend the bill to reduce the number of districts from 15 to 9. Well, that wasn’t my intention, you know, consolidate districts or co-op boards or whatever. And even if we did that, I would still want the changes in the makeup of the board. So that’s where we’re at.

Rep Duke: Thank you. And I agree. I like the idea of having some other voices at the table. So I guess my question would be, I would like us to make some more tweaks on this one to get maybe some more options for local school boards while still getting some other classroom teachers. And there may be some other areas, too, that as we start this discussion might need to be represented a little bit on their voices wise as well–

Rep Eubanks: And see I include—

Rep Duke: I really appreciate what you’ve been doing with this.

Rep Eubanks: Thank you. I included a person from the public because that person could be a former superintendent. Could be a former principal or classroom teacher or a business person. They have experiences, too, that are valuable in making decisions as to what’s best as to the type of services, how to spend money. That sort of thing, so.

Rep Evans: Representative Hodges, you’re recognized.

Rep Hodges: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I guess I don’t have a question for Representative Eubanks, as much as just asking you for taking action on the amendments or debating the amendment or if we’re going to start there before getting into the bill. You kind of touched on that, but just a point of clarification.

Rep Evans: Representative Beck, you’re recognized.

Rep Beck: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. I appreciate what you’re doing with the bill in getting more diversity. I think that’s a great way to go in no matter what we’re trying to approach. I think it’s a good idea. My question was, I probably could have done a little bit more research and maybe I could have come up with this. But the makeup of it now, the boards now before this change. How did they come up with the selection that they have now? 

Rep Eubanks: That’s a good question. I suspect there’s some people here that, if they’re given the opportunity to speak for or against the bill, might have that answer for you. It’s my understanding it’s made up of the superintendents of all the school districts within that co-op.

Rep Beck: I’ll save my question.

Rep Evans: Members, I want to follow up and try to also expand upon Representative Hodges question. We have an amendment before us of a bill and before we just get way down in deep into debating the merits of the bill, we need to address the amendment. Representative Flowers, you’re recognized. You were in the queue.

Rep V Flowers: Yes, thank you, Mr. Chair. I was going to ask to make a motion to adopt.

Rep Evans: I’ll take that motion. We have a motion by Representative Flowers to adopt the amendment as presented. Is there any discussion on the motion? Seeing none. All those in favor of the motion to adopt the amendment as presented say aye. Opposed nay. Thank you. Representative Eubanks, you’re now recognized to present your bill, House Bill 1192, as amended.

Rep Eubanks: Members, this bill has changed substantially since I originally filed it. Originally the bill allowed for the Speaker, the President of the Senate, the governor, and the Department of Education to make the appointments to the board. I had conversations with members, particularly Representative Duke and she had made the comment that she’d felt it was important that each school district had representation on that board. And the more I thought about that, the more I agreed with it. So I had changed, I amended that bill and put in place that the school boards could appoint their own representative to the co-op board. And they could use a school employee with the exception of the superintendent or assistant superintendent. It could be a member of the school board. It could be a member of the public. And so that was how I changed it in the first amendment and then I had the conversations that were set up for the co-op directors. Last Thursday afternoon I met with them. 

They wanted to have some representation on the board from superintendents. And so I thought about that. I had a former superintendent that had contacted me prior to that and thought it might be a good idea to have at least 1 superintendent on that board. And, so, after speaking with my own superintendent on Friday, that was where he came up with the thought that there ought to be at least 2. And that’s where it came in as a small district or a large district. Now based on Representative Cozart’s comments, the bill may require another amendment just to clarify how that works if there isn’t a small district or a large district. And that makes sense to me. And so then I talked with the Speaker on Friday as well and he was meeting with his superintendent and it was his suggestion that they be on a 2-year rotating term so that more of the superintendents within the co-op district would have an opportunity to be on that board as well. 

So it’s not a complicated bill, really. So my purpose here is not to close the co-ops down. I think for the sake of transparency and the possibility of having diverse perspectives and new ideas. I think it would be beneficial for the overall operation. I understand people don’t like change. I get it. But I think, I’ve served on this committee 4 terms. I’ve served 10 years on the Paris School Board. I’ve been passionate about education basically my whole life. So I think education is the key for everything that we do. If we want to give kids a choice, give them a future, we’ve got to change what we’re doing. Now, it’s not all on educators. Because our society has changed so much. I just don’t know if we’ve adapted accordingly to be able to meet the needs of the students that we’re trying to educate and serve now. This bill was not to be an attack on the co-ops. I just want to try to do things that make a difference, and hopefully for the best. I’ll try to take any questions.

Rep Evans: Any questions by the Committee? Representative McNair, you’re recognized.

Rep McNair: Okay. Representative Eubanks, and you touched on this. I’d like to have a couple but the purpose, the problem that we’re trying to fix is what?

Rep Eubanks: Like I said earlier, when everybody comes from the same background with the same, similar, for the most part, education and experiences they tend to look through the same prism when they address a problem. I don’t always think that’s a good idea. I mean, that’s why we have the makeup of a committee like here. That’s why we have a school board. Because you get people from different backgrounds that deal with things. I don’t think, I’m not saying it can’t happen, but usually if everybody comes from the same background, they may not necessarily consider different ideas that other people bring to the table. 

And so I have my perspective and ideas on this bill and that’s why I put it out there and said, okay, let’s have a conversation. Let’s talk about what we can do to make things better. Not all superintendents are created equal just like all representatives are not created equal. Some are good. Some maybe not so much. I was talking about the superintendents. [laughter] But, like I said, I was on a school board where we had several superintendents and I saw some, without naming names, that were excellent. And some that I didn’t have a whole lot of respect for and I didn’t think that they were necessarily making the decisions that were in the best interest of the children and the kids. I think if you look at, the problem I’m trying to solve is that, I don’t know, where are we 48th or 49th? And I don’t know if this is going to change that substantially, but I’m ready to do something. And I don’t see where it negatively affects the operation, necessarily. 

Rep McNair: The other concern that I have, and I can’t speak for co-ops across the state. But the years that I’ve been involved with the co-op that’s in my district, the board members have rotated and they do have different opinions. I mean, most of them aren’t superintendents but they’re not the same and, again, we’re talking about kind of equal representation. But we’re talking about, right now, we’re talking about going from 14 or 15 representation of our local school districts to, at an administrative level – to maybe 1 or 2 in our area. Because of the difference in size of schools. So, I mean, if we don’t trust our superintendents to do the right thing, I think the ratio should be different. In my opinion, the board at some point should at least be half administrators. They’re the ones that are in the trenches knowing what’s going on. That’s just my opinion. Thank you.

Rep Eubanks: Would we want the makeup of the Judiciary Committee to be all attorneys? [laughter]

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

Rep Duke: Okay, so I’ve been thinking about some of what you’ve said as we were talking. As I told you before, my district, I’m fortunate because I have a small, a medium, and a large sized school. So I’ve gotten all their perspectives and they feel like the co-op, from those perspectives, run really well. They all have a voice. But I do understand your thought process with bringing some teachers in. My concern that I have with that is, and I think it’s good, but if you have, say, one of our school districts, say Decatur chooses to put a teacher on there, or principal on there. That perspective, at least I’ve seen in board meetings, is usually from that building level and doesn’t encompass. An elementary principal doesn’t see things the same way a high school principal does. And so the superintendent should be the bridge between all of those to give those perspectives. So would you entertain, and, again, I feel like this is kind of a working document at this point of ensuring that those perspectives, if you do a teacher or a building principal, you need to have a voice from each of those levels. So maybe in the format of this, I would like to see, would you be interested in letting the school board choose, including the superintendent, or assistant superintendent. That’s what they think would best represent them. But then allowing some spots on that board that would be from maybe an elementary principal level and a secondary level so that those voices are heard in addition. Because I would like to have them at the table. But I don’t know that I would want to lose the objectivity and the knowledge base that our superintendents bring to it as well. So would you entertain maybe some of those options?

Rep Eubanks: I worry when a, in this case, if a classroom teacher was on there and their superintendent was on there as well. Would they feel possibly intimated and be afraid to maybe voice an opinion different. That’s what I’m afraid of because, you know, they’re subject to evaluations and that sort of thing, too. And then I don’t know, like I said, all superintendents aren’t created equal. Some follow the, just like any manager – some like input and follow input. Some people do not. So I wouldn’t want somebody to be on a board and then not feel able to freely express their opinion.

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

Rep Duke: Well, I mean, since you served on the school board, you know that happens every time there’s a principal’s report. They’re always—

Rep Eubanks: Yep, yep.

Rep Duke: –it’s a difficult rope for them to walk, being if they have a different opinion from their superintendent. And so that would be challenging, there’s no question. Same thing for a principal who comes and the superintendent that they work for. So I’m not sure that you can find a happy medium. Or maybe you can find a happy medium. I still primarily would like to see the decision to rest with the local school board. I think that’s a good—

Rep Eubanks: To include the superintendent or an assistant super–

Rep Duke: To include the superintendent. But I don’t want to take the scope out of allowing some other voices on there. Because I think those are important. Often their voices aren’t heard. So I do think that’s a good piece.

Rep Eubanks: And I would hope that a good school board would know whether their superintendent was in touch with the principals and teachers. So I don’t know that I can object to that idea.

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

Rep Cozart: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I think the biggest problem I really have with the bill, John, is the dropping back of all supers because, you know, they collaborate together with each other and figure out the best things for that area and for their schools. And there’s always a lot of things that each school needs differently, but when you just put 2 of them on there, they’ve got to go out and reach out to all those other ones, or the co-op needs to reach out to everybody, get that input, bring it back. Where before, they were all in a room meeting talking about things. Kind of like our PLCs do in collaborating together to make a good decision. So that’s– wouldn’t you agree? [laughter]

Rep Eubanks: I think collaboration is always a good thing. In this case, I’m just expanding the people that get to collaborate.

Rep Evans: Representative Garner, you’re recognized.

Rep Garner: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, Representative Eubanks, for being here. And I know we’ve talked about this bill before. Our co-op has some of the largest, the largest school district in the state and some of the smallest school districts in the state. We also have, we’ve got 16 public and 23 in all – whatever that math is – 23 in all with our public charter schools. It concerns me that even with one 1A and one 2A, or one 1A and one 7A school, or large school and small school. That we’re still going to have a lot of superintendents that do not have an opportunity to voice what their schools need. And it seems to me that if we have co-ops that are working well already, why would we punish them when somebody else may not be doing what they need to do. Our co-op is doing great. I don’t have teachers, I’ve got teachers that love it. I’ve got principals that love it. I’ve got superintendents that love it. I’m having a problem understanding why we would change what’s really working when we have so many other things in the school district that’s not working that we need to fix. What is it that we need to fix here?

Rep Eubanks: I think we’ve been wrestling with that question in Arkansas for some time. Because we haven’t got it right yet, I don’t think. I think we’ve gotten some things right. But I don’t know if we can even identify what we’re not getting right if we don’t have people that have different backgrounds that can look at the same problem and possibly come away with different solutions. So I understand if you have one that’s operating well, you don’t want to change it. I’m just not convinced that they’re all operating correctly.

Rep Garner: Follow up, Mr. Chair?

Rep Evans: You’re recognized.

Rep Garner: It sounds like there are several on the Committee that are not quite comfortable with the bill even with the amendments. Would you not consider taking it down and let’s look at these things and figure out how to fix the ones that aren’t working and leave the ones that are?

Rep Eubanks: I’m not objecting to pulling the bill down. I’ve said that from the very beginning. In fact, I told some people even last week that I came in here and I got the input from the Committee. They had other ideas that I thought I wanted incorporated. I was willing to pull it down and do exactly that. I just don’t know, I don’t know how to address your issue, specifically but I’m willing to talk about it and try to figure out a solution to that. But I wanted to have a conversation. I wanted to shine some light on the operations of the co-ops and get some different input. I think I’ve been successful so far in doing that part of it. So based on what you said, okay, I’ll pull it down and not put it to a vote right now. And be willing to meet with any member that is, sincerely wants to try to do something that improves the operation of what we’re doing in the State of Arkansas. 

Rep Evans: Representative Eubanks, if I’m understanding, now you’re saying that you would like to pull this down today. Appreciate the information that you have received, and you will take that back and meet with individual members to try to reach a better bill.

Rep Eubanks: But I would ask that if anybody has any genuine input, that they will contact me. And not just be opposed to this bill because it changes the current operation and they’ve heard from superintendents and/or the co-op.

Rep Evans: All right. Thank you very much for your testimony at this time.

Rep Eubanks: Thank you.

Rep Evans: Representative Maddox, you’re recognized to present Senate Bill 101.

Rep Maddox: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Could I have a guest join me at the table?

Rep Evans: Absolutely.

Rep Maddox: I’ll have my guest introduce herself and then I’ll proceed.

Rep Evans: If you would please.

Rust (UA): Melissa Rust, University of Arkansas System.

Rep Evans: Representative Maddox, you’re recognized to present your bill.

Rep Maddox: Oh, I’ve got a big crowd. I think they’re going to be a little disappointed in this bill, but, anyway [laughter]. This is actually, truly, a technical clean-up bill. All this bill does is remove some obsolete language. It makes no substantive changes. That’s all that it does. I do have Melissa Rust here from the system to answer any specific questions.

Rep Evans: Anyone on the Committee have a question for Representative Maddox or Ms. Rust? Seeing no questions from anyone on the Committee. There was no one signed up to speak for or against, but does anyone in the audience want to speak for or against Senate Bill 101? Seeing no questions, Representative Maddox you’re welcome to close for your bill.

Rep Maddox: I’d make a motion– I close for my bill and I make a motion do pass.

Rep Evans: Motion do pass by Representative Maddox on Senate Bill 101. Any discussion on the motion? Seeing none. All those in favor of the motion say aye. Opposed nay. Congratulations, Representative Maddox, you have passed Senate Bill 101.

Rep Maddox: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Rep Evans: Is Representative Mayberry here? I don’t see her. We will pass over 1337 today. Members, we will move to House Bill 1204. Representative Wooten, are you ready to present House Bill 1204? I’ll take that as a yes. You are recognized, sir.

Rep Wooten: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Colleagues, this legislation that I propose and bring to you this Bill 1204 today is meant to be an accountability bill. It’s accountability to the parents of students that are going to enroll in a private school and use state funds. I looked at the totality of all the rules and regulations that apply to public schools. And when I first started to write the legislation, I started to look at it from the standpoint of including every rule. And then I opted out of that to make it as less invasive as I possibly could. And that was when I came up with the thought process of testing. Solely testing each student that uses state funds to go to a private school. 

This bill is not intended to discourage them. This bill is intended to provide accountability from the private schools to the parents. So the parents can utilize the information that they’re receiving to compare to what the education they were receiving in a public school. Now, the test will be that test that is administered to 435,000 to 450,000 students in certain grades. So it won’t be the totality, but it will be graded into the 3rd grade level that I believe 8th and some of them. And of course the bill simply spells out that they will utilize the same test. Now, the Department of Education, it is my understanding is reviewing and looking into having a 3-prong test that begins at the baseline at the beginning of the year, a mid-term progress test, and then an end-of-year course test. Should that occur, then that would apply to the private schools. 

The bill, when I originally wrote the bill, or originally designed the bill, it was designed to exempt special needs students from the test. But it was brought to my attention that federal law might not permit this, so I went back and amended the bill to where it does include them. The second portion of the bill, that’s the first part of this testing. And the second portion of the bill applies to the constitutionality of us providing state funds to private schools and yet private schools can select, choose, pick, screen, however they want to, whoever attends. And, to me, that is unconstitutional. Now that’s just my opinion and it would take a court ruling to prove that. But it applies to every state fund that we utilize now. We require accountability and we do not apply state money from a discriminatory standpoint. And this is simply an effort on my part to have equality as it relates to all students being accepted. Students with special needs, students that may not be high performing. Let me share my concern is for the children. For the well-being of the children, not only in Central or Northwest Arkansas, but Eudora, Durmont, Lake Village, Forrest City, Helena, over in the western part of the state. That they have access to a private school. So the bill is, so the bill is two-phased. One is the testing, accountability to parents. Two is accountability to state tax payers. We may have, I don’t know, 12, 15, maybe 30,000 additional students that will enroll in private schools. But we have a 1.5 to 2 million other people that pay taxes and so they are entitled, and we’re all about accountability. And we never pass a bill that we don’t become concerned about accountability of how the funds will be used. Representative Eubanks, in his concern is that the funds are being wisely used. This is the same situation of accountability from the standpoint of the parents, from the testing and accountability from the standpoint of accepting students throughout the state. And with that, Mr. Chairman, I’d be happy to answer any questions. Thank you.

Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Wooten. Representative Hodges, you’re recognized for a question. Representative Meeks?

Rep Meeks: I have a question and a follow up, Mr. Chair..

Rep Evans: Go ahead.

Rep Meeks: First question, the bill states that the private school must cover the cost associated with the administration of the state-wide test. Any idea what that cost is going to be? Or who determines what that cost is?

Rep Wooten: I would just assume it would probably be in the same range of what it costs the state to do it.

Rep Meeks: But no idea what that number is?

Rep Wooten: No.

Rep Meeks: And then the second question that I have is related to the second part where it says a private school has to admit every student. So, for example, if a Catholic school strictly was trying to do education for students with a faith-based, Catholic education, they would be required to take students who did not share their faith under this?

Rep Wooten: If they applied. I mean, to me, a faith-based school is an evangelistic effort on the part of that school, that faith based. One of my sons wanted to attend one of the largest Catholic universities in the country. And one of the ranking officials at that institution, when I asked the question, what chance does a small town Baptist boy have to enter this university? And it was Notre Dame. And the response was, we take all that we can. We get 10,000 applications a year. We take 2,500 of those. And they encouraged others to apply. So to answer your question, if they’re going to take state money, we have got to have accountability. That’s the only way I know to answer, Representative Meeks.

Rep Meeks: I’ve got one more. I can get back in the queue.

Rep Evans: Okay. Representative Garner, you’re recognized.

Rep Garner: That was last time.

Rep Evans: Representative Flowers?

Rep V Flowers: Thank you. Just to be clear, Representative Wooten. Does this bill, I guess in your attempt to ensure that there is mandated admission, are you attempting to ensure that there is access? And for parents who have the choice and make a choice to send their kids to, let’s say in that example, a Catholic school. That they would actually be able to enter and actualize that choice, given that the school would have access to state funds?

Rep Wooten: Yes.

Rep V Flowers: Thank you.

Rep Evans: Representative Beck.

Rep Beck: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So my question is the accountability portion of it. And I understand and I agree that we should be accountable to make sure that if we’re paying for it, these children should be educated. The question is do the private schools now, do they do any testing now?

Rep Wooten: I can’t answer that. I’m sure they do, but I don’t know whether they do or not. But this will assure that they do have to test.

Rep Beck: Okay. In your bill, it says, what if there were a test that they were doing that was approved by the State Board of Education for them to administer. Would that fit your accountability standard?

Rep Wooten: No. Not under this bill. This bill simply says that they will use the same test and system so you’re comparing apples to apples, not oranges to apples, but apples to apples.

Rep Beck: I understand. Follow up, please.

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

Rep Beck: So if the State Board is saying or the Education Board is saying that they must administer a test as a private institution. And you would say that there should be a double test for those students? One because they’re a private school and one because that student happened to use some form of funds from the state to go to that school. Is that correct?

Rep Wooten: That would be a decision at the private school would make. if they want a test– if they want their test, but if they’re accepting state money for a student, then that student would use the state test. That way we have an accountability from our standpoint to the legislature to the state. And also to the parents. Then the parents can make an adequate choice, a decision, if they want to continue that. If, if they’re performing. The Brookings Institute and the Center of Education, Education Center, have come up with and done research that says that there’s really no difference between a voucher program school and a public school, over the long haul. So this will permit parents to be able to say, well, you know, you’re, their performing as well here as they were in the public school system. Or whatever they want to do. If they want to leave the student there, they’ll be able to. If they want to take their student. We’re comparing apples to apples. And we don’t know what type of assessment they use, we don’t know the criteria, we don’t know the people doing it. Is it a company based, firm based test? But if they use the same test that we use in public schools, which is only fair then,then we are comparing apples to apples. That’s a long way to answer your question.

Rep Beck: I appreciate that. Follow up? The follow up that I would have, though, is do you think that the existing system, the state’s existing system which sanctions private schools. That basically says you’re allowed to issue these diplomas. You’re saying that whatever they’re using now is substandard to the existing test in the public schools? Is that what you’re saying?

Rep Wooten: No. I don’t know what kind of test they’re using. I’m just saying that we will know that the test that we use, that we ask or, or enforce that they use, is a test that’s been sanctioned by the state and approved by the State Board of Education. So we’re comparing apples to apples. I’m not here to criticize private schools, contrary to many thought processes, but I do think that we need the accountability. And that’s all I’m asking for.

Rep Evans: Representative Meeks, you’re recognized.

Rep Meeks: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So, in our earlier discussion you-you had brought up an example which is what brought up my question. An example you gave was that 10,000 people applied to Notre Dame but they only allow 2,500 in. So under your bill here, the way it’s written, obviously we’re not going to have those numbers. But if a private school only has 25 slots but 150 kids apply, according to this, that school has to accept all 150 kids even though that school is nowhere near equipped to handle that many students coming in that fast. That’s going to create a problem both for that school and for those kids.

Rep Wooten: We’re going to have a problem, we’re going to have a problem and I didn’t want to get into this, but we’re going to have a problem at the state level. Let’s just say that 200 students here in Little Rock decide to go to Bryant. Bryant’s going to have to take them. And if they have to build new buildings, they’ll have to build new buildings. Which will only be paid for by the people in the Bryant School District. Not the people in the Little Rock School District. So, yes, to answer your question, if they get that many, if they want to go, that’s what school choice is all about. And they ought to have that opportunity and it will be up to that private school to see that they provide facilities, just like we’ll have to do because we’ll have many that will go from a failing school to an A-school and in another district. And that district will have to have no choice. They’ll have to accommodate them.

Rep Evans: Representative Flowers, you’re recognized.

Rep V Flowers: Representative Wooten, the part of your bill that requires the testing. I just wanted to kind of touch on some of the questions that we’ve heard with regard to your apples to apples focus. It sounds like you’re trying to establish a uniform standard for testing in the event that we move toward this school choice model and also maybe even perhaps to avoid confusion, conflicts of interest, etc. And I just wanted to ask you this question that I think I know the answer to and maybe others on the Committee. In the state when we contract with third parties, don’t we still establish certain state standards for someone to contract with the state that might be a private entity?

Rep Wooten: Yes.

Rep V Flowers: Thank you.

Rep Evans: Representative Beck, you’re back up. You’re good? Representative McKenzie, you’re recognized.

Rep McKenzie: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I just wanted to follow. I don’t have any questions, per se, on the bill, but as we’re talking about this in discussion. In continuing the theme of making sure we’re comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. I just question why would we make schools that don’t teach state curriculum or a state-approved curriculum, take tests that are on the basis of state curriculum? How is that necessarily promoting apples to apples? Because this bill does not go insofar as telling private schools that they have to go about teaching state curriculum, just that they have to teach or administer possibly an additional state test. So can you help me understand, I guess, the thought process behind if we are trying to create a level playing field, or an equal playing field, why would we administer tests that ultimately are going to evaluate students on a basis that’s not necessarily similar to the curriculum they’re being taught?

Rep Wooten: They’ll have to make a decision about their curriculum. 

Rep McKenzie: Follow up. Also in the bill I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss anything. This does not include anyone within a home school network, a micro school network? This is specifically for students who are taking or would take private taxpayer-funded dollars into private schools, correct?

Rep Wooten: This bill will not. But there is one that’s being prepared that will.

Rep McKenzie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Rep Wooten: And I answered that question because I understand that there’s going to be concern expressed about that today. And I want to be forthcoming with you. But, yes. That will be addressed too in another bill, because it’s a totally different branch of education. Thank you.

Rep Evans: Representative Garner, you’re recognized.

Rep Garner: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just had a quick question and forgive me. I have not seen the governor’s bill. I know that several people have seen so I don’t really know how it works except where it works in other states. But, if a Catholic school wanted to teach only Catholic curriculum, and didn’t want to accept folks that were not Catholic or were not interested in the Catholic faith, then they could do that. They just would not get public funds to do it. Is that the way that works?

Rep Wooten: Yeah, that’s correct. 

Rep Garner: Okay.

Rep Wooten: It’s a private school’s decision. If they want to accept school choice state money, then this will apply. Otherwise, it doesn’t apply. They’re free to do what they want to do. Whatever they have for curriculum or faith based. Whatever they want to do. Some would consider faith based indoctrination. 

Rep Garner: So my question is, this bill is trying to make sure that anyone, any private school that takes public funds is teaching the basic core curriculum necessary to get through the state education system?

Rep Wooten: An education is an education. The basic core principles, in my opinion, of public education and private education is reading, writing, and arithmetic. Anything else is subjective.

Rep Garner: Thank you.

Rep Evans: Representative Flowers. Take you out? Representative Duke.

Rep Duke: Thank you. So I appreciate you bringing this bill which, because I think it started conversations that have been taking place, at least in the area that I live, between home school, private school, and public school parents. And I think we’ve got to be able to have hard conversations. My question on this is, one of the complaints that I hear often in the public school system is we change tests every few cycles and it is very frustrating for teachers because the tests change. And we’re getting ready to go through that again. And they’ve said more than once, we’d just like to stay with the same test for a while. And so the private school would have to burden the cost of those tests. 

And so then they would be thrown into that cycle as well, which I don’t think is always a great cycle that we’re in of test change and it’s expensive to do that. And so would be open to, I think, trust but verify, accountability, I think those are always important in whatever we do, but having some flexibility for these private schools to as I think someone else said test the programs that they have found have been effective and also show clearly that their curriculum and what they’re doing is doing a good job. I mean, are you opposed to allowing them to have some flexibility? We have flexibility even with [inaudible] not as much flexibility as I’d like within school districts on curriculum. But we have some. To let those schools be able to choose a testing program that best reflects that they are having academic success without being mandated to use the ones the state uses, and thus be thrown into the cycle of changing with them as well.

Rep Wooten: Let me first say that I agree with your assessment of the situation. I think that we’re in a search for what is best. And consequently we have changed and they are looking at another change down there now at ADE. But, no, I won’t because of the fact that I want to be able, I want the parents to be able to compare where their student was performing in public education versus a private education. And I think they’re entitled to not only that, but I think that it sets a standard that we all can look at. Both from the curriculum. There may be perhaps things in private schools that maybe we need to incorporate in the public schools. But we have got to have a standard of accountability. And I don’t know, I don’t like a test because, to me, a test is that point in time. But that’s the only measurement that we have to be able to measure, are we making any progress. At least at this point.

Rep Duke: I understand that. But as I’m sure you’re aware that across the state, across the country different schools are doing different tests. And so we’re nationally not doing. I mean, Arkansas kind of notable that we’ve been doing the ACT Aspire and that’s not been one that’s been done across the county. But we’re—

Rep Wooten: We’re the only state.

Rep Duke: –still able to relatively see where your school is in line with that. And so that wouldn’t be that unusual for school systems to not all be using the exact same testing format and still being able to deduce their productivity.

Rep Wooten: Well, to my knowledge, each state makes their own decision relative to what tests they’re going to use. But they’re all the same standard as it relates to the public schools. At least to my understanding. I think we’re the only– we may be the only state to use this testing at this point. 

And let me share with you that I feel like that we need to have a three-prong, a baseline established, a midterm exam, and then an end of course. Because what we’re seeing in some districts is the fact that they are showing progressive movement upward. But yet when they take the one test at the end of course, and they take that one test a year, it’s showing that they’re not improving. But yet, the other tests that they’re taking show that they are. So testing is needed but I want to be able to for the parents to compare both state and private. Thank you, good question.

Rep Evans: Representative Beck, you’re recognized.

Rep Beck: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Representative Wooten, I appreciate your efforts here but you just said that a test is not a good indication, it’s just a point in time and that’s all. But yet, you would use that for the private schools. Wouldn’t it be a better thing to look at the private schools out there and say – really all schools I would argue – and say what is the outcome of those students? How are those students performing in their next phase of their life, whether it be continuing education or preparedness for the workforce and so on and so forth?

But what you would do with this bill is say okay, a test that you yourself say is just a point in time, it doesn’t really mean that much. And then put that on them in addition to a series of tests that have already been approved by the private schools and apparently seems to be working just fine with them as far as the academic means for that.

So you’re adding a test and then you’re saying that well, tests don’t really say that but it’s important that we do it so we compare apples to apples. I would say the apples to oranges that you’re talking about is more a case of who gets tested, when they get tested, and how things went that day for that student, wouldn’t you agree?

Rep Wooten: Well, I don’t agree. What I meant when I said about testing is that I wasn’t being critical of the test. At this time that’s the best way we have to measure. And we can’t look out and see what the end result of an education is because it’s so wide and so varied. I mean, here again, we’re looking for the– and like I said at the beginning. I designed this so it would not be invasive on making the schools adjust their curriculum or whatever they want to do. But at the same time, we have to have some form of accountability and right now testing is the only way I see that we have a form of accountability.

Rep Beck: So you’re saying right now there’s no accountability to our private schools as far as their academic achievement?

Rep Wooten: No, I’m not saying– I don’t know what they’re doing. But I’m saying that we can’t compare– how are we going to compare their tests to those tests that are used in– how are we going to compare to know? As a member of the legislature, how are you going to know that the money that we’re putting into school choice is actually giving us a better result than what we’re doing in the state funding? That’s all I’m saying. And that’s the reason I didn’t say private schools you’re going to have to operate just exactly like the– I don’t see where they can do that.

But from the testing standpoint, it’s much less invasive than any other accountability that we can come up with. This is a minimum effort for accountability for the taxpayer, for you as a Representative, for me as a Representative, for the folks on the other end of the building to be able to look at and say look, this is the end result. And they are performing much better with a school choice or they’re performing equally or less. That’s all this is about.

If I knew of another way, Representative Beck, to be able to gauge it, I’d be amenable to it but to say well, let’s see what they do after life or after school. Do they go to college, do they go to skilled trade school, where do they go, what do they do? I mean, that’s years out in front of us.

Rep Beck: Well, I do appreciate the effort that you made with this bill but I think it falls short of the target. And I think it falls short because you’re taking a test which we need to test just like the public schools do. And at this point, there’s no proof that those tests are actually helping our public schools at all based upon their performance. Thank you.

Rep Evans: Would you agree?

Rep Beck: Would you agree?

Rep Evans: Seeing no more questions by the Committee. We do have one person signed up to speak against the bill. Ryan Norris. Yes, Ryan, if you’ll go to the end of the table, introduce yourself for the record and then you may proceed with your testimony.

Norris: Thank you very much, Committee. Thank you, Mr. Chair. One of the components that hasn’t been talked about yet regarding this bill is the definition of state funding. And the bill attempts to redefine state funding to include the Philanthropic Investment in Arkansas Kids Program. This issue has already been resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization vs. Winn, and Arizona Department of Revenue vs. Winn, where the cases were dismissed because the court made a clear distinction between the state funding and funding from non-profit organizations that receive private citizen contributions.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, “When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute, they spend their own money, not the money of the state that has been collected for respondents or from other taxpayers. Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the Arizona State treasury.”

So Arkansas should not pass a bill with this built-in challenge, the definition of state funding versus private funding from private pre-tax contributions that the Supreme Court has already decided on back in 2011. So with that, I respectfully ask for a vote against House Bill 1204.

Rep Evans: Does any member of the Committee have a question for the witness? Representative Flowers, you’re recognized.

Rep V Flowers: Thank you. I’m just wanting to be clear. So are you saying that even though the dollars might come from the state but pass through a pre-tax bank account?

Norris: Regarding the Philanthropic, those do go directly to the non-profits and never go into state coffers. So they are private donations for tax credit purposes and are not public dollars as defined by the Supreme Court.

Rep V Flowers: So the dollars that would go to the private schools would have never come from the state?

Norris: In regard to the Philanthropic Scholarship that we have passed, that is true.

Rep V Flowers: Oh, yeah. Okay. Thank you for that clarification. Follow-up?

Rep Evans: You’re recognized.

Rep V Flowers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So just in regard to the philanthropic contributions, yes. I think my head was steeped in what is not law right now and what could possibly be state dollars coming from the state, what about that?

Norris: So when it comes to state dollars, we do believe that you should– there needs to be accountability that yes there is. Now in regard to this particular issue of standardized testing, I found an interesting quote from Arkansas Educator, Volume 42, number one, from the spring of 2021 that said “standardized testing grew out of misguided policies, and we now know they are flawed tools that ought to be replaced. As districts navigate the most challenging year in recent memory it is concerning to see precious time with teachers and education support for professionals being consumed on testing that cannot accurately measure a student’s learning progress, skills or ability.” And that is from Arkansas Educator, Volume 42, number 41. I do have a copy of it in case you’d like to take a look.

Rep V Flowers: I would.

Norris: So why would we place upon a private school something that’s definitely from the conversation in here, in question?

Rep Evans: Representative Flowers.

Rep V Flowers: Yes, but isn’t everything that we’re doing, especially in terms of saying that public schools are failing, predicated upon those tests and then the A through F grades that schools have gotten. The takeover of schools taken over by the state for years, the economic development decisions that are based on that, parental decisions that are based on these test scores and then these A through F grades, isn’t all of what we’re talking about in terms of reform predicated on those test scores and those grades?

Norris: If that’s the only standard by which we are making these decisions that is definitely in question about how impactful these have been used. And we definitely agree that there probably needs to be some deep research about the replacement at some level.

Rep V Flowers: I agree with you but my final question is, if the public schools that most of our children will go to even in the wake of choice opportunities are being defined by these tests and these scores, and then the grades that are given schools, then wouldn’t you agree that all kids should be tested until such time as it’s determined that is in fact not effective?

Norris: Well, if the AEA is already deciding that it is not effective, I kind of agree with them at the moment on that. So I think choice, actually the benefits of choice come with the model and the ability to individualize the curriculum and the education to the student. That’s where we’ll see the movement. But currently, there’s just so much with standardized testing as it currently exists that we hear about all the time in the research that we do, in the relationships that we have. That to take this at this juncture and push it off on private schools to where it could be used again against private schools maybe in takeovers, et cetera, will we talk about that. If they do fail, what happens to that school? Right now under the model, the private school ceases to exist because parents don’t feel they’re getting a quality education.

Rep Evans: Representative McKenzie, you’re recognized.

Rep McKenzie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. So I just wanted to clarify your initial testimony in that it is of your belief and opinion that as this bill is written it would – and if it were to pass both chambers and be signed into law – it would effectively create an opportunity for a legal challenge that has already been adjudicated in the Supreme Court?

Norris: Yes.

Rep McKenzie: Thank you very much

Rep Evans: Thank you, Mr. Norris, for your testimony. I don’t see any other questions from the Committee. Is there anyone else in the audience that would like to speak for or against? Yes sir, if you’re speaking for or against?, For? If you’ll come to the end of the table, if you will introduce yourself for the record and then you may proceed with your testimony.

Smith: Thank you, Speaker.

Rep Evans: Turn that mic on and pull it up close to you.

Smith: Thank you. And thank you for your time. I’m Andrew Smith I’m vice president of the Helena-West Helena school board. I graduated from a private school, taught at a charter school and now I’m on the school board for our public school district. So I have a lot of experience in different areas of education. In my community, we have two private schools in our county, another private school right outside of our county, and then another private school right on the other side of the Mississippi River. And we have a major charter network there as well.

Students and families have the opportunity right now to make educated choices about where they send their students and I’ve been privy to a lot of those conversations. And if we are moving to expanding school choice for parents and having public dollars go to local private schools. And we’re entertaining this idea of competition between schools and letting the competition make the decisions about what model is working, which model is not working. Then I as an educator and as somebody who lives in my community would love to see the opportunity to objectively measure success between these different schools. And if we’re not – whether or not you agree on the efficacy of standardized tests, which I have my own opinion on – that is how we measure it and therefore, I’d like to have an objective standard between them so that we can have educated conversations and decisions between what school is best for the parents.

Rep Evans: Members, any questions for the witness? Seeing none. Thank you, sir, for your testimony today.

Smith: Thank you.

Rep Evans: Seeing no one else signed up to speak for or against. Representative Wooten, you’re recognized to close for your bill.

Rep Wooten: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Let me say on the testing issue. It’s the best we have right now to be able to measure. And the end result gives a comparison between public and private. It gives a comparison for the parents to be able to evaluate. It gives the Representatives, each one of you something to look at as the gentleman pointed out from a competitive nature. If schools are competing adequately at the same level, then whatever decision the parent wants to make under school choice they’d be able to make.

Mr. Chairman, if you permit me, I’d like to conclude by stating a few points. This establishes a minimal intrusive level of fiscal accountability for the expenditures of state funds, that’s what this is about. Provides a narrow set of accountability measures involving student assessment only that gauges the extent to which a private school curriculum and instructional practice deliver grade-level standards required by the Arkansas Constitution. Gives parents a degree of confidence that their child’s attainment of constitutionally mandated grade level standards in a key course curriculum area will be monitored. Encourages private schools to hire effective teachers to teach a curriculum necessary to give every child the best chance to graduate from grade 12, college, or career ready. And helps ensure that non-discriminatory practices are followed in accepting student applications. And that’s what this bill simply does, it’s about accountability. Accountability for the parents, accountability for the school districts, accountability to you, the Representatives who are going to make some major, major decisions as it relates to education in this state. And with that, Mr. Chairman, I close. Thank you. Thank you, Committee.

Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Wooten. Members, Representative Wooten is closed for House Bill 1204. What are the wishes of the Committee? We have a motion do pass by Representative McNair. Is there any discussion on the motion? Representative Hodges, you’re recognized.

Rep Hodges: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Yes, I will not be voting for the bill and I’ve got a few points I’d like to make before we go to a vote. First, Representative Wooten said at the beginning of his presentation of the bill that he believes that using public funds for private schools is unconstitutional. I’m not an attorney either, but I do know that several states have been sending or using public funds for private schools for decades and that’s been litigated to the Supreme Court numerous times, including in the last few years. Specifically dealing with public funds going to religious private schools. I know there have been cases coming out of Maine and Montana on that specific issue. So I disagree that using public funds for private education is unconstitutional.

Secondly, to the issue Representative McKenzie raised as far as the curriculum goes. I do think a lot of the reasons that some families do choose private schools is because they offer a different curriculum, a different method of instruction, a different way of doing things and teaching their students. And to require private schools to use the same state testing. Representative Wooten said himself, private schools will have to make a decision about curriculum. So you’ve pretty much admitted that doing so would require private schools to also adjust their curriculum to essentially align with the state public schools. So you’re really taking away the whole reason for a lot of private schools to exist in that they do offer something different and really just trying to turn private schools into public schools.

And then lastly, and this is probably my biggest issue is what Representative Meeks pointed out. The bill says that every student who applies if the school accepts public funds, every student who applies would have to be admitted. And under a public choice scenario, like where you mentioned Little Rock students going to Bryant, that’s not something we’d be requiring of the Bryant School District. It’s not something we require currently of public charter schools for example. They can at least have a lottery system to determine who’s going to get accepted if they don’t have the spots available.

So in a hypothetical scenario where I start Hodges Academy and I’m doing everything that you would like me to do under this bill. I’m administering the same state test as the public schools, and trying to follow the law as best I can. If I can only fit 250 students in my school but 500 students apply, I have to admit every one of those students. And so really just again for a private school who tries to comply with this, really implementing this bill as it’s written would be impractical for most public schools. So for that reason if nothing else, I cannot support the bill. Thank you.

Rep Evans: Representative Meeks, you’re recognized.

Rep Meeks: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I’m just going to just make two brief points on this. First off, I understand the desire for accountability but parents are the ones who choose to send their student to a private school. And regardless of what happens on a test, I think parents are going to be the ultimate guard of whether that school is meeting the need of that child or not regardless of what happens with any test. So in that regard, I think the testing becomes superfluous.

Secondly, kind of following up on the capacity limits, one of our lobby friends reminded me that in the scenario where you would suddenly have 200 students go down to Bryant, state law currently provides protections that if there is a capacity limit hit there, that like Representative Hodges said that they don’t have to take those students beyond their capacity limit. That same protection is not provided in here for private school. So for those reasons, I’ll be voting no as well.

Rep Evans: Is there any further discussion on the motion? Representative Flowers, you’re recognized.

Rep V Flowers: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I just want to thank Representative Wooten for bringing this bill. And I know we’ve had a lot of conversation this afternoon. And I just want to clarify a few things. Just with regard to a standard of accountability, that’s something that already exists for any student no matter whether they attend a private school or public school today and want to go to college. There’s this thing called the ACT and the SAT. A standardized exam, no matter what kind of curriculum their high school utilizes, they are still subject to that test for admission into a college that’s accredited. 

Accreditation is established for schools for the very purpose of uniform standards and accountability. As I mentioned before, kids all over the state for years have been subject to taking tests when we’ve had teachers screaming from the rafters talking about how it is not effective. And if that is an issue, then obviously, it’s an issue that would need to be determined. As it stands right now, all of our schools are– all of our students are subject to those tests. All of our schools get graded based on those tests. They get taken over by the state based on those tests.

I think that it would be really disingenuous of this whole body for us to engage in complete reform of our school system and abdicate our responsibilities to make sure that number one, our kids are being tested appropriately no matter where they go to school for the very reason they’ve been tested. But also, that if we’re going to define a school as an F school or punish schools for whatever reason, or recognize that these choices have outcomes that causes schools to close. We’ve had no problems closing schools in the very communities that we say kids are at risk and we want to open up choice. If we’re going to open up choice, let’s make sure that there’s accountability.

As far as access, I think that there is an issue in the bill to account for capacity which could be changed by a simple amendment but I think we have to be careful to make sure that there’s not cherry-picking. And that if there are kids in my district that want to attend a private school, that they won’t after making this kind of change be told that they don’t meet the criteria but these other kids do.

As it relates to Catholic schools and other religious schools and their admissions, I’ve never seen a Catholic school that doesn’t accept people of different faiths. As a matter of fact, according to the National Catholic Education Association, 20% of Catholic high schools are not Catholic, and 40% of the student bodies identify as non-Catholic.

And finally, with regard to the cost, part of the reason that there is even discussion about allowing funds to follow students is so the schools that parents choose for them to go to will have the capability and the capacity to provide tools and resources. Tests are tools. And I would say that any school that takes dollars from the state or any student, those dollars would and should be utilized to ensure that the appropriate tools are provided for every student. With that, again I want to thank Representative Wooten for bringing this bill to ensure that there is a standard of accountability, that there’s access, that there’s equality that is taken into consideration with the state dollars that could be used. And that are not being used by the way. So the Constitutional issues that we heard could be an issue would be an issue for what we have right now. But you also heard that same witness speak to the fact that if there were state dollars involved that would be a different scenario. So let’s be clear about that.

And finally, any such issues with regard to the testing or the tool itself, there’s nothing in this bill that dictates one testing tool over another. That would in fact be determined by our Department of Education. And I think that if we’re going to talk about reform, reform should not be limited to private schools. If we’re going to talk about reform and making all of our schools better and competitive, let’s make sure that we are treating our public schools with the same level of consideration and vigor about change and resources that we are concerned about the protection of the private schools that would benefit from state dollars. Thank you. And I will be voting for this bill and ask that my colleagues also do the same. Thank you.

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

Rep McKenzie: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I want to thank Representative Wooten for bringing this bill. I think it’s important for us to all remember that the outcome of everything we do in here is to provide for better educational outcomes for all students regardless of where they go to school in the State of Arkansas. I will be voting against this bill because I do believe it puts undue burden not only on private schools but on parents in the process of selecting what schools best fit for them and empowering them in that process. 

And albeit we had just one member of the public came and testify against this bill in reference to its legal concerns, I have learned – I know I’m the freshman squeaky wheel that gets the oil – in terms of things that pass through our Committees and out of our body it is not in our best interest to do things that will ultimately, inevitably, and to the point of some of our Committee members who agree that there needs to be change, needs to take place somewhere else. If there is going to be a legal challenge, if this codifies a legal challenge to exist in our statute after it passes, we are not acting in the best interest of our constituents back home. We are going to be effectively passing a law that will get hung up in courts and will ultimately be adjudicated in the way that the federal justice system is aligned with the fact that private dollars coming through a state entity is allowed and legal. So with that, I encourage a no vote on the bill.

Rep Evans: Representative Garner.

Rep Garner: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I wasn’t going to say anything but thank you, Representative McKenzie. I think that we have got to remember Lake View when we talk about legal battles. Because when we take public funds and put them into a program that we have no idea what they’re doing because there is no accountability for private schools or parochial schools or home schools. I think we are opening ourselves up to another Lake View. We’re opening ourselves up to litigation because we don’t know what those– we are putting public funds into schools that we have no clue what they’re doing. And until we have accountability in those schools, and maybe those tests are not the best way, but as Representative Flowers mentioned, that’s the only way we have right now. Let’s look at a different way to provide that accountability but we have to provide accountability for public funds no matter where your child is getting an education or we’re going to open ourselves up to another Lake View. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Rep Evans: Any other discussion? Seeing none. You have a motion before you by Representative McNair, do pass on House Bill 1204. What is the will of the Committee? All those in favor say aye. Opposed nay. The nays have it. I’m sorry– we have two hands. I’m going to ask our staff.

BLR Staff: Representative Meeks, no. Representative Cozart, no. Representative Fite, excuse me, Charlene Fite, no. Representative McNair, yes. Representative Beck, no. Representative Lanny Fite, no. Representative Flowers, yes. Representative Vaught? Representative Vaught? Representative Maddox, no. Representative Barker, no. Representative Wing, no. Representative Garner, yes. Representative Hodges, no. Representative Walker, yes. Representative Long, no. Representative Duke, no. Representative Painter, no. Representative McKenzie, no.

Rep Evans: I’m sorry, Representative Wooten, your bill has failed.

Rep Wooten: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Committee.

Rep Evans: Members, Representative Wooten has also House Bill 1205. I kind of have a feeling that’s going to be a very long debated bill as well. And we certainly want to give everyone the opportunity to speak for and against. And I know that there’s several interested parties. Representative Wooten, would you be able to come back Thursday morning, 10 AM to present 1205?

Rep Wooten: Certainly can. Thank you.

Rep Evans: Thank you. With that, members we are adjourned.