A bill that would have allowed for the building of either public or open-enrollment schools on land that was initially donated for the purpose of affordable housing for low-income families failed to pass an Arkansas Senate committee on Monday.
The Senate Education Committee, by a vote of 3-5 did not advance House Bill 1113, which would have permitted land donated by the Commissioner of State Lands for the construction of low-income housing to instead be used for the public schools.
In late January, the House passed the bill by a vote of 74-19, with House Democrats representing every no vote.
Cliff McKinney, an attorney who was there on behalf of the nonprofit group "Arkansans for Better Schools," spoke in favor of the bill.
"This is specifically looking at education opportunities for this land that’s currently restricted for low-income housing only. So it’s just to provide another option for some land to be used that can’t otherwise be used or has not been used for low-income housing for three years since it was donated," McKinney said
When asked by Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, if the nonprofit was interested in the building of a school on a particular piece of land, McKinney said the group was interested in one area in southwest Little Rock.
According to GuideStar, which keeps information on nonprofit entities, the main listed address for "Arkansans for Better Schools" is in Bentonville.
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who spoke against passing the bill before the vote happened, said a consequence of passage would be the continued closure of public schools, with open-enrollment charter schools replacing them. She used closures in the Little Rock School District as an example.
"Southwest Little Rock is an area that is underserved. If we put one more school in southwest Little Rock, I guess we will close another additional public school. Because that’s what we’re talking about doing here, all in the name of ‘It’s about those poor kids, so they can have more opportunity," Elliott said.
She also said while at a first glance this bill seems like "such a great idea," one consequence of building such schools only on land that was set aside for low-income housing would only serve to further segregate schools.
"Although it sounds very altruistic on the face of it, the outcome of it would be very deleterious for moving kids ahead. Especially having an opportunity for all of our kids, not just the poor kids, but all of our kids that go to school together, to learn together," Elliott said.
Before the roll call vote took place, the committee also failed to pass it on a voice vote. Though it failed, the bill could be brought up again in committee.
Senate Passes Bills Concerning Elections
Earlier Monday, the Senate passed two bills that amend election law in the state.
Senate Bill 188, which requires all polling places, even those on private property to adhere to all existing rules for polling places on Election Day, passed by a vote of 33-2.
The Senate unanimously passed House Bill 1202 by a vote of 35-0, which requires all Arkansas counties to publish sample ballots online before any election. That bill now goes to the governor.