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Local & Regional News

Arkansas Committee Does Not Advance Bill Concerning Local Control Of Schools

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Arkansas Senate
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A bill that clarifies when the State of Arkansas must return a public school district to local control failed to advance in committee on Monday.

By a vote of 4-4, the Senate Education Committee failed to pass Senate Bill 314.

According to the legislation, any public school that has been under the authority of the State Board of Education for five years and also has democratically elected a public school district board of directors must return to local control. The bill also gave permission for districts to return to local control in a period fewer than five years. 

Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, a former educator, sponsored the legislation. She spoke specifically on the Little Rock School District, which has been under state control for over six years and only again elected a new school board last November. During the period of state control, she said district schools were closed "due to efficiency" while charter schools were opening. 

"By my count, since this district has been taken over, we’ve opened at least four and it looks like seven charter schools since the district has been taken over when we had no school board, we had no superintendent the school board had hired. So it leaves the appearance that this district has just been held in abeyance so people can do what they wish with the district," Elliott said.

Education Secretary Johnny Key said the Arkansas Department of Education was against the bill and spoke on the state’s authority to maintain control over a district beyond a five year period.

"Under the limited authority provision, it’s as long as it takes to resolve all of the components of the exit plan, whether it’s Little Rock or Earle of whomever. The goal is though to remedy all of those prior to that five years," Key said.

Three people spoke in favor of the legislation, including current Little Rock School Board Member Greg Adams, who was president of the Little Rock School Board when it was taken over by the state.

"Five years is a significant amount of time to be without local governance, and it should be the upper limit as the legislature had intended. And when local governance returns…it should be allowed to return in full reality without restrictions as is the right and responsibility of all other elected school boards in Arkansas," Adams said.

No one else spoke against the legislation.

Though the bill did not pass, it could be brought up again in front of the committee.

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