Bill funding medical school scholarships advances

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 426 views 

The House Education Committee advanced a bill that would provide scholarships to fast-tracking medical school students and rejected a bill that would allow high school students to immediately play sports on Tuesday (Feb. 23).

House Bill 1021 by Rep. Joe Cloud, R-Russellville, would provide a $30,000 college scholarship for Arkansas residents who complete their undergraduate training in two years and have completed their first year at the state’s three medical schools.

Those schools are the College of Medicine of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith, and the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.

Cloud, a retired medical doctor, said the scholarship would address the state’s physician shortage.

Funding would come from the Division of Higher Education through private contributions. Cloud said one-time money would initially fund the program with additional funding to be determined later.

The lack of funding was a concern for Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio. She asked about capping the number of students. Cloud said probably less than 10 students would be eligible and that $500,000 could be initially funded.

In response to a question from Rep. Fred Love, D-Mabelvale, Cloud said the bill does not require students to remain in Arkansas.

Lawmakers voted against House Bill 1171 by Rep. David Tollett, R-Lexa, which would have allowed school choice students who transfer after the 10th grade to participate in sports immediately. They now must wait 365 days to play and must obtain an athletic release from the district they are leaving.

Tollett, superintendent of the Barton-Lexa School District, said he has had to tell many students they could not play sports for a year. He said students deserve the chance to move to a new school where a team might better suit their skills or where they might play rather than sit behind a better player. He said one student transferred to his district but then returned to his old school. He now has a scholarship at Louisiana Tech.

Opponents, including Rep. Gary Deffenbaugh, R-Van Buren, a retired teacher and coach, responded that the bill could accelerate schools recruiting athletes, which Tollett said already happens. Tollett said when recruiting occurs, coaches and not students should be penalized.

When Tollett was asked about addressing the issue through the Arkansas Activities Association, he said the AAA would surely be opposed, which it was. Rep John Maddox, R-Mena, noted that the AAA is composed of the self-governing member schools, who are opposed to the idea.

Joey Walters, AAA deputy executive director, said his group’s members do not support the bill. He said students could transfer to four different schools in high school based on athletics. Letting athletes transfer without consequence erases the need to work hard to gain playing time or learn conflict resolution when there are problems. It also would devalue community spirit, allow players to move in and take another player’s spot, and add to competitive imbalances between schools.

The committee advanced House Bill 1430 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, which would allow non-resident homeschooled students to participate in interscholastic activities without their resident district’s approval, if the activity is not offered by their resident school. It also would clarify that homeschooled students are not required to take a class in order to participate in an interscholastic activity at a public school.

Lowery and Jerry Cox with the Family Council, a group that supports homeschooled students, said AAA has required homeschooled students to take a class.

Lance Taylor, AAA executive director, said superintendents decide whether to require students to take a class. He said AAA tries to treat homeschooled students the same as other students.

There were a number of “no” voice votes, but the committee’s chair, Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, ruled that it passed, and no one called for a roll call.