Feb. 7, 2023
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- HB 1161 Creates flexibility for students who are pregnant or parenting (passed)
- HB 1185 Removes preschool students entering kindergarten from transfer cap (passed)
- HB 1254 Amends state’s financial contributions to school construction projects (passed)
- HB 1337 Allows state school construction money to go to pre-k or safe room projects (held for fiscal impact study)
Rep Evans ….Representative Eubanks. We like to move that down to a special order of business for Tuesday, February 14. Any objection to that? Seeing none, will you note that and place that on the agenda? Members, we’re going to start today, House Bill 1161. Representative Hudson, you’re recognized to present your bill.
HB 1161 Creates flexibility for students who are pregnant or parenting
Rep Hudson Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you committee. I’m really excited to run 1161 today. And so I wanted to give you a little bit of background on where it came from. So when I was growing up in southern Illinois, I grew up in a town of about 9,000 people, but we had the most teen pregnancies and bars and churches per capita in the entire state. And so I grew up with a lot of friends who had children while they were in high school. And so from that experience, I saw firsthand how difficult it was for those teen moms and dads to sort of adjust to parenting and trying to finish their education. Knowing here in Arkansas we tend to have some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country and some of the lowest graduation rates in the country, I wanted to sort of build on my experience as a high school student and on that knowledge and try to figure out some ways to be a little creative and outside the box in trying to help these students be successful in high school and to get their degrees.
So from that, I started looking into ways we could do that. As an employment lawyer, I started thinking in terms of FMLA leave and other types of family leave that employers offered often their employees in order to ensure that they have time to go to doctor’s appointments, have bonding time and recovery time after labor and delivery, and also to do all the things that you have to do in order to take care of your child, going in for your well baby visits, taking care of yourself when you get sick, and, in some cases for these young moms who may be putting their child up for adoption, having the time off in order to go into court and have those hearings in order to get those those items accomplished as well. So I started looking around at what other states might be doing in order to tackle this problem.
And, lo and behold, our neighbors in Louisiana have also addressed this. So in 2021, Louisiana passed a bill that’s very similar to this one that was aimed towards trying to ensure that teen parents in this position have some additional leave time from high school in order to recover from delivery and pregnancy, to go to doctor’s appointments, court appearances and so on. And so from that, I started putting together what is now the Parenting and Pregnant Students Act. What this does is that it allows pregnant and parenting students to have an additional ten days that they can take off in order to care for the baby, to recover from delivery and do all the things that I just listed, doctor’s appointments, court appearances and the like. Right now in the law in Arkansas, if a student is out of school for ten days, or more than ten days, they can be considered truant.
So this would allow an additional ten days that those students could take without penalty in order to care for the baby or to accomplish some of these things. Now, it’s not a get out of school free. They can’t just declare that they’re going to take the day off because they’ve got stuff to do with their child. They do have to get permission from either a doctor’s note or a parent or guardian in order to take this additional time off. So there are safeguards in place. In addition to that, this bill also allows and requires that schools provide girls who are breastfeeding a safe and private place where they can pump for their baby. They wouldn’t be able to bring the baby on campus for breastfeeding during the school day unless, of course, they happened to be at one of the schools in the state that offers an in-school daycare. But it would provide them a private place in which to breastfeed or to pump and then also a safe place to store the milk after they pump. That place has to not be a bathroom. So it would have to be someplace other than a restroom where they could safely and privately take care of their pumping needs.
It also requires that the school provide some information about where there may be daycares in the area, either in the time leading up to delivery or after. I had a question about how schools might know that information, and I checked last night just to ensure that it was as easy to find as I thought it was. DHS maintains that database where you can search by city, county. You can do a radius search and it will list all of the accredited daycares within a certain area. So it could be as simple as providing a link to that to the students so that they can select on their own. And so all of this is geared towards trying to help these students become parents and to be successful and to also be able to graduate from high school. We know that outcomes are better for the parent and for the baby if their parents are able to obtain their high school degree. Certainly opens up a lot more opportunity for income, for getting jobs and for furthering their education, which of course opens up a lot more opportunity for their child.
Some schools in the state are already doing this, which is great. This just creates just a floor, a baseline that we want all schools to be able to do because there are certain schools that are not doing this and that when that student hits the 11th or 12th day of absences, they’re declared truant. So we’re trying to make sure that there’s some consistent policy in place so that all of the schools understand what their obligations might be for these types of students in order to make sure that they can be as successful as possible going forward. I’m happy to answer any questions about the bill. I know that UAMS has come out in favor of this bill. Arkansas Advocates For Children also is in favor. And I think that’s the thing that I’ve liked the most, is I’ve gotten emails from either current teen parents or previous teen parents who have said how much they think that this could help them, and for those who have already gotten out of school, how much it could have helped them to be more successful while they were parenting their child.
Rep Evans Thank you, Representative Hudson. Representative Fite, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep C Fite Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I really like your bill. Thank you. I did have one question. I talked to the superintendents in my area, and my area is primarily rural, and they tell me that they already do this, especially with the remote learning that they can now do with students using their computers at home and so forth. So I was wondering if you have any statistics on how many schools do not do this or grant them extraordinary medical leave for needs with pregnancy or with parenting?
Rep Hudson Admittedly, the information I have is anecdotal. And that is that a lot of schools, and I reached out to several in Pulaski County, don’t have a policy in place that deals specifically with these students. And what that means is that you end up with students who have different outcomes, sometimes even within the same school. So a student may be able to get leave in one situation and then the next student who maybe talks to a different assistant principal or comes through a couple of years later isn’t able to get any leave. And so and then I talked to other schools, though, that have far more generous policies in place that allow for more flexibility. So this would just be to create a minimum baseline. Always schools can do more and many do. And so this is just to create a structure and some guidance for the schools to know what the expectation is when they find themselves in a situation with a pregnant or parenting student.
Rep C Fite Follow up?
Rep Evans You’re recognized for your follow up.
Rep C Fite Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This would basically just being standardizing this across the state?
Rep Hudson That’s correct.
Rep C Fite All right. Thank you.
Rep Evans Any other questions by the committee? Seeing none, we do have Olivia Gardner signed up to speak for the bill. Is Ms. Gardner here? Ms. Gardner, if you will go to the end of the table and identify yourself for the record, and then you may begin your testimony.
Gardner Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. My name is Olivia Gardner. I’m the director of education policy at Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. We’re an organization that’s been advocating for Arkansas children since 1977. I’m here today to speak in support of HB 1161, the support for Pregnant and Parenting Students Act. As Representative Hudson mentioned, Arkansas has the highest teen birth rate in the nation, 87% higher than the national average. We all want young people in Arkansas to have every opportunity to thrive. But our staggering number of teens giving birth puts young people at risk of not finishing high school. We must do everything we can to support pregnant and parenting students, and this bill would be a powerful step in that direction. By considering time related to appropriate medical appointments, labor and delivery, in addition to giving students a reasonable amount of time to make up that work, we would be giving pregnant and parenting students the flexibility they need to be successful students and parents. This would lower the chance of a student falling so far behind academically that they risk dropping out of school altogether. Unfortunately, this is a sad situation that’s all too common in our state. Additionally, the provisions of the bill that would allow for a space to be made available for lactating mothers would give the student necessary privacy while reducing any associated stigma. Acknowledging our teen birth rate, we have an obligation to make our schools an encouraging and inclusive environment for our pregnant and parenting students. This bill could have an immediate and positive impact, would not have a significant cost associated, and I encourage the committee to vote in favor. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rep Evans Members, any questions for the witness? Seeing none, thank you for your testimony. Is there anyone in the audience that would like to speak against the bill? For the bill? Seeing none, Representative Hudson, would you like to close for your bill?
Rep Hudson Thank you, Mr. Chair. As I said, I’m very excited about this bill. I think that this is one of those opportunities where we can provide some real and meaningful change for some of these young people learning to be parents. And I would really appreciate a good vote. Thank you all.
Rep Evans Members, you’ve heard all the testimony. What is the will of the committee? Representative Fite, you’re recognized. Representative Fite with a motion do pass for House Bill 1161. All those in favor say aye. Opposed nay? Congratulations, your bill is passed.
Rep Hudson Thank you.
Rep Evans Committee members, at this time I want to recognize we have some guests here today, very special folks. Representative Warren, Representative Warren. If you go to the end of the table, I believe these fine folks are from your district. You are recognized to introduce your guest.
Rep Warren Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. And members of the committee, I am excited to have a school district from District 84 here. They actually are about four blocks from where I live. Superintendent Nancy Anderson, who happened to be my oldest son’s sixth grade teacher, and he had his 33rd birthday this past Friday. And I was asking him what are some of the memorable moments were, and he goes, You know, I remember going to school on my birthday one year and my teacher, Miss Anderson, brought donuts that day. So great teacher, now the superintendent at Cutter Morning Star, and she has brought five students with her. You all just raise your hands when I call you. Kyler Case, Kaitlyn Koby, Clarissa Toder, Kelly Kash and Ruby Dresner. Okay, whatever she said. So I am so proud of you guys. I hope your day at the Capitol is great. And thank you for being in the Education Committee. And did you want to say–
Rep Warren Well, let me just tell you, future educators, this is a key committee for your future. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and committee.
HB 1185 Removes preschool students entering kindergarten from transfer cap
Rep Evans Thank you, Representative Warren. And thank you all for being here today from Morningstar. Next on the agenda, we will go to House Bill 1185. Representative Mayberry, you’re recognized to present your bill. I believe you have a guest. If you would introduce them or have them introduce themselves for the record and then you may proceed.
Rep Mayberry Okay, I’m State Representative Julie Mayberry and I’ll let you introduce yourself.
Humphrey I’m Novella Humphrey. I’m the director of curriculum and federal programs at the Southside School District.
Rep Mayberry Members, back in October, as chair of a subcommittee from Children, Aging and Youth, we had a gathering to hear about early childhood education in the state, some things that are going on around the state to help improve the quality of our care of early childhood education. And we had a bunch of ideas shared during that meeting. One of the presenters was actually Novella Humphrey because their school district has on campus from birth all the way to 12th grade. They have preschool, but starting even at birth. And it has been such a phenomenal program. They’ve had such great success with this. Just very briefly, I think we can consider it, we use sort of this term of a ‘three-fer’ because not only does it help the child, the baby, the infant get good quality education, but it also helped students who are junior, seniors there at the school with an opportunity to work in those classrooms, and then it also has been a great recruiting tool for their teachers. Because they’re teachers who are looking for childcare so that they can work are able to also put their children there, plus a whole bunch of other wonderful things. But when we were discussing, we asked, what are some complications that you’ve had? How can we help other school districts move forward with this idea? And so the bill I’m presenting to you today is one of the things that they have said would help not only in their situation, but would help other school districts. And I’m going to let Novella Humphrey kind of share what the situation is.
Humphrey Thank you. One of my day to day responsibilities at Southside is in the preschool program. So we have a separate campus, a fifth campus, and we serve 276 students from birth to school age on that campus. This morning, when I looked at the waiting list on the drive down, we have 84 infants and toddlers waiting to get in that center. We have over 50 two-and-a-half and 3-year-olds waiting to get in that center. We have about 40 3-year-olds and as of this week we’ve placed every 4-year-old ensuring they get at least a year of preschool before they enter kindergarten.
So the center has became a really strong childcare center throughout the county. Children that attend there do not necessarily live in the 51 square miles of the Southside School District. We’re located just outside of Batesville, Arkansas, so we’re kind of a bedroom community, hardworking folks who work in a regional health care center, one of our local manufacturers, drive past the daycare center every single day, this early childhood center. And so they choose that center for their child. It’s convenient. It’s right off Highway 167. They’re close to work. If their child gets sick, they’re close to getting medical care. Because, you know, a baby only gets sick Friday afternoon about 4:30. And so they’re close to get to one of the clinics there in town to get that care for their child before they return home.
And so over the last 15 years or so, we’ve grown from 25 children to this 276. And one of the hurdles we face is that when families choose this, early on they register their child even before the baby’s born they put their child on the waiting list. Early on they choose our school for their early childhood needs. And then when it comes time to come to kindergarten, if they do not live in our district, they may not qualify for kindergarten under the school choice 3% cap. So, for example, if a neighboring district has a cap of 15 and we have 25 students apply, the last 10, even though they might have been at Southside preschool since they were 2 years old or 3 years old or 4 years old, is not eligible for kindergarten. And they have to return to their resident school district or appeal to the state Board of Education.
And so over the last five years, we’ve had numerous families appeal the 3% cap. The state board has released them to attend our school district. But it’s just a burden. It’s a hurdle those families have to go through. And one of the immediate families that comes to mind is a young mother. She has two children in our school district and when the first child was born, she chose our school district and our early childhood campus to meet her needs. She works for a local law enforcement agency and drives directly past our school each day. But to go to the early childhood center in her district, she had to drive 10 miles out of her way and then back to her job in Batesville. So she chose our center because it’s on her way to and from work. But then the 3% cap prevented her daughter from attending our school under the school choice rule. So she had to take a day off from work, go to the state board and appeal that, as well as all the paperwork to get to that. So we would like to remove that barrier for families there, making the choice early on with their dollars.
Most families are paying tuition to attend. In those infants and toddler rooms, they’re paying tuition. They’ve chosen with their presence, their child has that early application. They are 84 on that list, many of them babies not even born yet. They’re making that choice early, but late they’re not allowed to attend because of the 3% cap. So we’d like to see some leeway that if a student has attended a preschool in a nonresident school district, that district has already invested in the early stages of that child’s education, that they’re able to retain that student without accounting in the 3% cap.
Rep Mayberry And with that, we’ll take any questions.
Rep Evans Members, any questions for Representative Mayberry? Representative Duke, you’re recognized.
Rep Duke Thank you, Mr. Chair. Quick question, can you not do board to board transfers to address that situation?
Humphrey That is an option if the resident school district is willing to do a board to board transfer. And some districts are not willing to do board to board transfers.
Rep Evans Any other questions? Seeing none by the committee, thank you very much for your testimony. We have Superintendent Dion Stevens here to speak on behalf of the bill.
Rep Mayberry I think he’s going to pass. This is his school district. He’s in support of it. Yes.
Rep Evans That’s good to know. Yes. It’s going to be a long drive back for somebody, if not. Is there anyone in the audience that would like to speak against House Bill 1185? Seeing none, Representative Mayberry?
Rep Mayberry I’d appreciate a good vote.
Rep Evans You are closed for your bill. Representative Vaught, you’re recognized. We have a motion do pass by Representative Vaught on House bill 1185. All those in favor say aye. Opposed nay? Congratulations, your bill is passed.
Rep Mayberry Thank you, members.
Rep Evans Representative Mayberry, since you’re down there at the end of the table, would you like to proceed with House Bill 1254?
Rep Mayberry Sure. Thank you. I will say that this one starts out with an amendment. So that was brought late last night. So–
Rep Evans Members, you’ve had a moment to review the amendment. Representative Mayberry, would you like to present your amendment?
Rep Mayberry Sure. Members, first of all, let me introduce who I have with me if you don’t mind. This is– you go ahead and introduce yourself.
Walters Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee, I’m Karen Walters, superintendent at Bryant Public Schools.
Rep Mayberry And last night, we became aware of just a little clarification that we wanted to make. And this amendment, it doesn’t really change the overall intent of it. And I’d appreciate your support in adding this amendment in there to clear up some language.
Rep Evans Representative Wing, you’re recognized. We have a motion to pass to adopt the amendment. All those in favor say aye. Opposed nay? Your amendment has passed. Now you’re recognized to present your bill 1254 as amended.
HB 1254 Amends state’s financial contributions to school construction projects
Rep Mayberry Thank you. Okay. I’m going to start off with a little analogy here. I want to bake a cake and I have some flour and I have some sugar. And unfortunately the eggs are just way too expensive nowadays and the milk too, because cost has really gone up. And so no matter how much I want to bake a cake and I’m very appreciative that I have this flour and the sugar, I still can’t bake a cake. That’s kind of a situation that our school districts are in right now with facilities and they need some help. And this is one potential solution. I’m going to let our school superintendent from Bryant give more explanation. We also have a handout that if Representative Evans has approved– okay, all of you should have that handout if you can take a look at that, because that’s in reference to this. And I’ll let Karen take over.
Walters Thank you. Thank you, committee. You have a handout. And I think probably that’s the best thing for us to look at to start this conversation. I want to say how much I appreciate Representative Mayberry. I came to her to carry this legislation because of some of the things that she just talked to you about. On the side of the page there where it says Bryant Public schools approved facility projects analysis of cost, I’ve made a table there to show you what facilities has done over the last few years. So, we have a project that is approved for high school additions. It was submitted in the 21-23 cycle and it’s 45,000 square feet. You can see that we were funded.
We were notified by the division on April 28th of last year that we had received funding for that project. It should have been 42.5% would be the state’s portion of that. We are locked in at $3.4 million. When we submitted that in September of 2019, the estimated cost of that project was between $9 and $10 million. With what’s happened with facilities over the last few years since COVID and now with the storm shelter requirement that has been put into place, you can see that the cost today is going to be $23 million. We have another project. We have a junior high that we opened in 2019 and it’s already full. We are needing to add in addition to that some classes and that building was built to be able to add classes. Actually, it was the first of its kind and we have been notified that that project is approved. We will find out in a few months if we are going to receive funding or not. That project was supposed to be between $2.7 and $3 million and it is now $6 million.
So to give you just a short summary of what the facilities division, and what it’s look like on our cost that we receive per square footage, I believe the amount from 2008 until 2021 was $175 a square foot. And then in 21 it was changed to now be $200 a square foot. The issue is that it is hard going from $200 per square foot to actual cost today of $500 per square foot to be able to build anything. And I want to be very transparent in telling you that if this bill passes, there are not going to be as many projects that are going to be funded if there’s not additional funding added to the facilities division. But the way I see it, if we don’t add what that cost is per square foot, none of us are going to get to build anything. There’s just that what we’re getting today is not enough money. If you look at the bottom of that page, you can see the numbers there. As I said, we are supposed to be getting about 40% from the state. If you add up now what those costs are, if we were to build those two facilities today, we’re actually going to be getting 15% would be the part of what the state gave us for those buildings.
I think it’s going to be very difficult for any school district to pass a millage in the next few years with what we’re looking at with the economy. So that’s not going to be an option for us. And the other thing that I want to say is this is not self-serving. Bryant is listed– in the space rankings from the facilities division, they rank all the districts in the state. And of course, number one is the highest ranking. As far as if you submit a project, I want you to know that Bryant is 160th on that list. So I’m not at the top of the list where Bryant’s going to get all of this money. I think there’s also been some concerns of this bill that all of the big districts are going to get this money. So I did an analysis and the top 10 districts, 1 to 10 that are ranked for space, there are four 1A school districts. I use what we know for sports because we all know what that means, right? There’s four 1A districts. There are two 2A districts, three 5A districts and one 7A district, which is Jonesboro. So there are a lot of small school districts that have a high ranking for space. So I don’t think this is an issue where it’s going to be, you know, again, that the big schools are going to get all of the money.
I hope that it will be considered that we look at the appropriation for the facilities division so it’s not a small number of districts that do receive those funds. But this bill, I believe if I remember seeing the fiscal impact, there’s not a fiscal impact. It’s just that the money’s not going to go as far. But again, I think if we don’t look at what costs are when we’re trying to set that amount, I again, I think we’re in a position where no districts are going to be able to build anything. So.
Rep Evans Mrs. Walters, will you entertain questions?
Walters Yes, sir.
Rep Evans Great. Thank you. Representative Cozart, you’re recognized.
Rep Cozart Thank you, Mr. Chair. And a little bit of a statement and a question. I’ll try to kind of keep it all, but I think you kind of hit the nail on the head. There’s only a certain amount of money that we fund for buildings, and that’s been capped for the last couple of years, hasn’t really changed a lot, did a little bit. But I think that’s something we’ll have to bring up to ever affect what you are asking for. Last year we also recommended $275 per square foot change in that amount. But all that does is just, the more you fund to each school, that lessens the amount they can do. So it still caps that. So we’ve got some changes. And I don’t know how this bill would do part of it, but it won’t do it all. But there’s some money. The money’s got to change and you know that. So I’ll ask, do you agree?
Walters Yes, sir.
Rep Cozart All right. Thank you.
Walters Emphatically. Yes, sir.
Rep Evans Representative Meeks, you’re recognized.
Rep Meeks Thank you, Mr. Chairman. So I’m trying to get a handle on the practical implications. Obviously, I know the construction costs. We’ve been talking about this in this committee for well over a year. So in your amendment here, it says the division shall not lower the funding factors. So does this mean that if we determine that A, B and C and D are all factors, that we’re not going to reduce those factors? We’re going to have to always include those? Does it mean that, you know, if we set a certain dollar amount for that factor that from 2023 forward, we will never lower it? Even if costs go down in the future, we’re still never going to lower it to reflect what the current market value is? Or is it going to be, well, once we set it in 23, it’ll be one rate, once we set in 24, so it could fluctuate, but once we set it for that year, it stays at that level for that year? So can you help give us the practical what this is really going to do?
Walters Yes, sir. So my understanding is the language of the bill doesn’t mean that it can never go down. What it means is they’re going to look at the factors every year. And so if we get out of this COVID craziness and it does come down, when they do the analysis and the costs have come down, then yes, it could be lowered. So it doesn’t mean that it can’t ever come down, but it means we’re looking at the cost at that time instead of saying, putting that arbitrary number on there, we’re going to set it at $200. Looking at what the actual costs are. Did that answer your question?
Rep Meeks I think so. So once the division has decided what those funding factors are, they’re not going to lower them until they again some point in the future, whenever that is, decide what the funding factors are. So they can change what the funding factors are, what the funding factor amounts are, but once they decide what those are, they will stay put until they decide what they are again.
Walters Yes, sir.
Rep Meeks Okay. So make sure we’re clear as mud on all this. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rep Meeks Any other questions from the committee? Representative Duke, you’re recognized.
Rep Duke Thank you, Mr. Chair. Did the storm shelter piece, were you going to have this issue before us had the storm shelter piece not been added as the requirement this year? And from what I’m understanding, this will help– sorry, I’m getting two bites at the apple. I hope that’s okay. This is not going to help. This is only going to solve a few districts’ problems. The storm shelter piece is likely– I know the other costs are there. The storm shelter piece is likely going to keep a lot of districts from being able to do the construction they need to do. So we’re not really going to address this issue for everybody, correct? Is that correct?
Walters I think it doesn’t address– so the two projects that I have for you on this list, it doesn’t help me, those of us that have projects for the 21-23 and 23-25 cycle. Those have already been approved. This is not going to help me for these two projects, but I think it’s projects going forward. So anybody that submits in the future, I think it helps them. But you’re right, unless something else is done in legislation, it doesn’t help those of us that are in this limbo right now. And the high cost, yes, that was a problem because it was $375 and $200. But the $500 just kind of buried us because it was such a significant increase.
Rep Evans That get your question and your follow up answered? You’re very welcome. Representative Painter, you’re recognized.
Rep Painter Thank you, Mr. Chair. Have you had any feedback, Rep. Mayberry, from Department of Ed on this bill?
Rep Mayberry You see the fiscal impact on it, where they do some analysis on it. I have talked a few times with facilities folks, but I believe they’re neutral on the bill. I mean, by all means, we can ask someone to come up and share their perspective.
Rep Painter Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rep Mayberry I welcome that.
Rep Evans Representative Vaught, you’re recognized.
Rep Vaught I don’t even know how to ask my question, Mr. Chair. So I’m just sitting here contemplating it, trying to figure out.
Rep Evans Would you like to get back in the queue?
Rep Vaught I would love that. Thank you.
Rep Evans Representative Vaught, you’re recognized.
Rep Vaught Okay. I see a need for this. I totally understand the need for this. How many bids did you actually receive that said $500 per square foot? Did we go look at different places or?
Walters We have not received any bids, Representative Vaught. This is our construction management company and the architects that are giving us these figures. So if you look on the other side of that document I gave you, Baldwin & Shell is our construction management company. And I reached out to them to see if they could give me, you know, prices going back to 2009 to present. So if you look, they have had two elementary schools and a middle school in 2022, you’ve got $367, $382 and $316. And those are actual costs because those buildings are completed. The storm shelter, because no one’s been there yet, those are just estimates that we have received from our construction managers and the architects giving us those figures.
Rep Vaught Against, I see the need. I mean, I really do. But I know there’s only so much of a pot of money and only so many few people are going to get chosen. And then you’re back to picking winners and losers again, whether you are in rural Arkansas or whether you’re in Little Rock, Bryant, and then my little districts in my rural area suffer because the bigger schools get it and they need it also. So that kind of worries me that there’s only so much money. And I realize that. But I also don’t want to discount anybody else from getting these same projects. I mean, I don’t know how to–
Rep Mayberry You mentioned the rural districts and all that, can you repeat that information that you shared? And maybe because that’s not very big school districts.
Walters Okay. Yeah. So there’s two different pots of money and I might should have explained that at the beginning. There is warm, safe and dry pot of money. And there are space rankings. And those rankings are two different rankings. Okay? So space rankings, that is for a district that is growing. I have to have a brand new building. I’m not remodeling. I’m not asking for a roof, HVAC replacement. I have to build a new building because I’m growing so much. So there’s that pot of money. But the warm, safe and dry is separate from that. And that is so I can ask for HVAC replacement. I can ask for roofing. There are several components that go into that. School Dude is that is the statewide maintenance software that all public school districts are required. So if I submit for a roof, and this happened. We asked for one of our elementaries to get a roof. And the answer that we received is you don’t have enough work orders in School Dude– that’s the name of the software. You haven’t had enough problems with your roof. So we were declined for that project.
So there’s a lot of pieces that go into that. But the biggest thing is, like I said, for the space is the top 10, 1-10. And the number one district– so if they submit a project, number one is Maynard. Maynard is northeast Arkansas on the Missouri line and they’re a 1A school district. So of those top 10, there were four 1A schools, three 5A. So it’s I think everybody thinks that the big schools are getting all the money. Like I said, we’re ranked 160th. Everybody I think is worried that Bentonville is going to take all the money because they’re such a growing district and they’re either 60th or 67th. When you look at the numbers for growth, Bentonville, Benton and Bryant are the top three in numbers. And our rankings are 160 and 60 and 67. So there are a lot of districts above us.
Rep Vaught Yep. So can I ask a question of the chair?
Rep Evans You may.
Rep Vaught Thank you, sir. I’m trying to remember back. I think the House tried to address this during adequacy, correct?
Rep Evans That is correct.
Rep Vaught And the Senate did not concur? Or did we address and they didn’t concur?
Rep Evans We addressed it through– yes, we raised it to 275 from 225. We raised it to 275 at the end of our adequacy process.
Rep Vaught Okay. Thank you.
Rep Evans Representative Beck, you’re recognized.
Rep Beck Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I maybe getting too deep into this, but so the storm shelter portion of this, is this to make the building, essentially the building itself is now the storm shelter? Or is it to put a storm shelter area within the building?
Walters I don’t know that I’m the best person to answer that question, but I will try to give you how I understand it. Any new buildings that we build, we have to have either a place, we have to have an area designated that will hold all students, the capacity of that building, or you have to build the building to meet those standards. Does that make sense?
Rep Beck Yeah.
Walters I could build a storm shelter, and then have the rest of it not to that– but then if it has to hold the capacity of that building, that’s a pretty large space. And if I can just bring this up, the issue with the storm shelter, we did not find out about that until November. And I know that was after your adequacy recommendations came out. So that is something new that has happened since that. I just wanted to point that if.
Rep Mayberry This just became effective this year. So storm shelters were not something, and I have another bill that addresses that that maybe we can talk about a little bit more. But it is something that moving forward, our school districts have to consider in their construction plans.
Rep Beck Follow up?
Rep Evans You’re recognized.
Rep Beck So the concern I have is this: You have a bid for two different sized buildings, square footage wise. The adder for the storm shelter is the exact same amount per square foot, all right, which would indicate if you were building a shelter within the building, that these two buildings would have the exact number of occupancies per square foot. Does that make sense? So we could say that each building per square foot has the same number of people and that would justify having the exact same number per square foot for the building. Now, if it’s like the other point that you made, that the whole building now is going to be a storm shelter, then that makes sense that they would do that. But if that’s the case, then I would– another option might be to take a look and say, how much is it to put a storm shelter within the building that can handle the occurrences of the people in the building? It’s just odd that they would come out exactly the same per square foot unless they intend to make the whole structure a storm shelter. It’s not a question, I guess, but.
Rep Evans Representative Painter, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Painter Thank you, Mr. Chair. Can you explain to me in the bill why, if this bill passes, why it’s increasing $62.3 million? What is in the bill that’s making that price increase that much?
Walters The cost–
Rep Painter So it says the proposed bill would increase the total costs by $62.3 million. What in the bill is making that increase by that much?
Rep Mayberry It’s just that things cost more. So it’s not costing the state any more money. There’s no fiscal impact. We still have the same amount of money going towards facilities with this bill. It’s just that it will be divided differently. Instead of going to 75 projects, it will go to 50 projects. Does that help?
Rep Painter Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rep Evans The chair is going to recognize Representative Cozart for a comment. I’d like him to clarify just for everyone the impact that we’re talking about with the recent November ruling from the state fire chief on storm facilities.
Rep Cozart That is correct. The International Building Code the fire chiefs have, now– if they accept the new international building code, the 2021 code– they’re always run a little bit behind. But this is what it requires is for all schools that have those new buildings would have to have a storm shelter part or that school building would have to be designated as a storm shelter. So that code has– I’m not sure if we’ve accepted it in Arkansas completely, but that’s what they’re going off of now. We’re trying to hold that back. We haven’t got everything in place to do that. There’s a few other things that the commercial and the residential home builders are fighting on the international code, too. So that could possibly change a little bit or could maybe– I think the issue was that we addressed this a little bit last year in ALC but they held off on it because of the risk factor. If we tell the school that they don’t have to do this and then they don’t do it and the building fails and kids are injured in some way, there’s a liability there. So we’re looking all of those things over right now. But I think it’s best for everybody to prepare to build the shelters like they have to. And Rick and I were just talking about the factor, if you build that whole school building as a storm shelter, that’s an add of $125 a square foot. So it goes from $375 to $500 with that factor in there. So it’s not that it’s another 500 square foot. It’s actually just another $125 a square foot to do that. Is that correct? That’s correct.
Rep Painter I like the way you tagged that question on the end. Thank you for doing that. Any other questions from committee? Seeing none, is there anyone in the audience that would like to speak for or against? Sorry. Representative Duke, I’m sorry. You’re recognized.
Rep Duke Thank you, Mr. Chair. I need some clarification on the new storm shelter piece. My understanding had been that if you had additions– so I know a lot of school districts just plan to add four classrooms on as needed– that you had to add on the storm shelter to cover all the students within that building. Is that correct? Or is it just for the four classrooms hosted there?
Walters My understanding is that whatever the new construction is, that square footage, you’ve got to have a storm shelter that holds the capacity of the addition. So if it’s being added on to an existing building, my understanding is that you don’t have to have the whole building. It’s just for new construction. It’s just moving forward.
Rep Evans I believe that if that new expansion houses 50 or more students, that that’s the caveat to where it then would have to have the storm shelter. Yes. Yes. Representative Vaught, you’re recognized. Is there anyone in the audience that would like to speak for or against House Bill 1254? Seeing none, Representative Mayberry, you’re recognized to close for your bill.
Rep Mayberry I know that this is not perfect. None of us want to tell a school district that might have qualified before that they won’t get funding. But in talking to the superintendents that I’ve talked to, they all say that, I would much rather someone have the money to complete the project than to get money that just sits there and they can’t complete it. It’s just like baking that cake. I can have as much flour and sugar as I want, but if I don’t have that, you know, the eggs and the milk to go with it, I’m not going to be able to do anything. So I’d appreciate the support in moving forward with this bill. And I guess my hope is that maybe we can find a little bit more funding on down the road to help fund more projects. And I appreciate a good vote.
Rep Evans What is the will of the committee? I have a motion. Representative Cozart, you’re recognized.
Rep Cozart Motion do pass.
Rep Evans Have a motion do pass as amended from Representative Cozart. Is there any discussion on the motion? Seeing none, all those in favor of the motion say aye. Opposed nay. The ayes have it. Congratulations, you have passed your bill.
Rep Mayberry Thank you.
HB 1337 Allows state school construction money to go to pre-k or safe room projects
Rep Evans Members, Representative Mayberry has House Bill 1337, and she has requested to go ahead and present that bill today because she has witnesses who are here who spoke on a previous bill. They traveled in, and rather than have them come back, without objection, we’re going to allow her to go ahead and present House Bill 1337. And then we get the fiscal impact back, we can take action on that on Thursday. So is there any objection to hearing that bill today? Seeing none, Representative Mayberry, you’re recognized to present House Bill 1337.
Rep Mayberry Thank you. I have a theme and this one kind of combines my first bill with my second bill. So as I mentioned, we had Southside School District present some information to a subcommittee of Children, Aging and Youth. How can we help more schools develop pre-K and early childhood education? One of the ideas was to help with funding with construction. And so I said, Well, let’s see if we can use facility funding to do that, because right now pre-K is not allowed to be, facilities any way to be funded. And then this whole safe room issue came up. And so I’ve put this bill together so that we can address to make sure very clearly that safe rooms and early childhood education facilities can be covered in our facilities funding. And I brought with me from Southside School District the superintendent.
Rep Evans Introduce yourself for the record and then you may begin your testimony.
Stephens Dion Stephens, Superintendent, Southside School District.
Rep Mayberry Do you mind just sharing a little bit of what has held you back from growing faster?
Stephens So as Ms. Novella mentioned on the previous bill, we have over 270 preschool students. A little over a decade. We started with 25. As you know, preschool, we charge for preschool care and finding the money to actually build our preschool is kind of pieced together. We built four classrooms. We look for any grants available. Something that you may not know, it’s hard to get a grant for new construction. We recently built two classrooms with help from White River planning development, and then also a safe room on our preschool campus that kind of doubles as a multipurpose gym. But just finding the money for new construction, like we mentioned so many on the waiting list, the data shows us and I’m sure everyone is aware how important that preschool is. So we’re just trying to find avenues for money for construction. The kids are there. We just cannot afford the space.
Rep Mayberry So this bill is allowing for construction to be used. And I realize we’re dipping more into that cookie jar to get money out. And it means that there would be even less money for other projects. But I do believe that as we move forward as a state, we need to consider the need for early childhood education in the state. It is a huge, huge need and obviously we’re helping to improve the lives of our youngest population, which then goes on to hopefully do better in K-12 because they’ve had a better start in life. But also we are hearing from our Chamber of Commerce, from our businesses, saying that they cannot find employees to work because the workers can’t come to work because of childcare issues. And so this is one idea that I’d like to throw out here. We can’t vote on it today because we do not have the fiscal impact. But since they were here, I wanted to start talking about this so that we can continue to get feedback. Also in this bill, you’ll notice we specifically point out that it can be used for safe room funding as well, so that it’s very clearly in the law that that is a part of it moving forward. And I’d entertain any questions.
Rep Evans Representative Meeks, you’re recognized for a question.
Rep Meeks Thank you. And thank you for bringing the bill. The question that I have related to this is, does the school, by providing the early childhood education– kind of two parts here– does it bring new liability on to the school that the school otherwise wouldn’t have? And two, I know it can be related, but does this start to get outside of the scope of what the purpose of a public school is? You know, the purpose of the school, obviously, is for education. And by providing that early childhood education, do we start getting outside of the scope of what the public schools are really mandated to do? So I’d just be interested in your response to those.
Rep Mayberry I’ll let you share in a second, but I think you just said it. We’re referring to it as early childhood education, education being the point there. I think that we need to get away from looking at it as babysitting and we need to start thinking about 0 to 3 is really, if we want to improve our educational system in the state, we have to start at birth. That is when the babies brains are growing the most, 0 to 3. And that is the area that we ignore the most. And so we need to start thinking about what are we doing, I’d even say, prenatally. I was one of those that sang to my babies in the belly because I heard that it was good for them. We need to start thinking right away at birth, what are we doing to help improve the quality of that child’s life? And I think that this helps with that. But I’ll let you address the other issues.
Stephens So your question was is it out of the scope of what we are mandated. And I would say it is out of the scope, but we do it as an investment in our community. We do it for an investment in the kids that we see a tremendous difference. We do use it as a recruiting tool and to get students. We actually have the highest school choice population in the state, the report that they send out. So it does help in that. Preschools are not going to make money. They’re not going to make the school districts money. You’re basically just, you’re having a fund it just for that future investment.
Rep Mayberry And do you mind sharing how it’s been used as a recruiting tool in your school district for teachers?
Stephens Yes. So probably five years ago, we started– we were only taking 18 months and older. And so about five years ago, we decided to start with birth. So as early as six weeks old and through the 18 months. And we just do that for employees right now because we saw the need. So right now if you’re an employee of our district, then birth to 18 months we do provide care to them. That started out with about three babies, and now we have about 20.
Rep Evans Any other questions from the committee? I’m seeing none. Representative McKenzie.
Rep McKenzie Thank you, Mr. Chair. So just wanted to loop back to that. And I don’t want to spend too much time being specific to Southside School District, but you run a 100% discount rate for your employees for early childhood care. They currently do not pay any tuition?
Stephens So they still do pay. They’re just the only ones eligible for the childcare.
Rep McKenzie And what is your effective discount rate for tuition for early childhood education compared to your cost per student? How much does it cost you per pupil in your early childhood education center to run the function on an annual basis if you had to amortize it on a per child basis? And what are you charging that child?
Stephens So we charge– we actually did have to raise our rates just in the last couple of years. But like for an infant, I think it’s $120, all the way up until if you’re a 4 year old, it’s about $80. And that really doesn’t– because we also use certified teachers. We have four certified teachers that serve 4 year olds. And as you know, that’s more expensive and not necessarily a requirement. But like Representative Mayberry said, it’s definitely not babysitting. I mean, they are full on engaged in learning every day. So to answer your question, I don’t really know. I guess where the cost would, where the tipping point is we don’t make money on it. We just try to sustain our employees at that level.
Rep Evans Any other questions? Seeing none, is there anyone in the audience that would like to speak for or against the bill? Seeing none, we’re not going to close for your bill. We’re going to let you at this point–
Rep Mayberry Just give feedback. Feel free to talk to me. We’re waiting on the fiscal impact and happy to hear. I’m not going to say I always have the answers, but let’s start discussion and I think we’ve started some great discussion today. I’m really happy that we’re publicly talking about it and looking for solutions together.
Rep Evans So, members, pending us receiving back to fiscal impact, giving you time to view that, once we have that, then we will give Representative Mayberry. We’ll bring her back, put her first on the agenda once we have that, let her close for her bill and then let you as a committee take action as you see necessary. Any other business to come before the committee today? Seeing none, we are adjourned. Thank you for being here.