House Education chair says omnibus bill needed to ensure all reforms work together

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,706 views 

House Education Committee chairman Rep. Brian Evans, R-Cabot, said Sunday (Feb. 5) that it is important having an omnibus education reform bill in order to ensure different levels of change connect.

Appearing this week on Capitol View, Evans said Gov. Sarah Sanders’ changes to state education policy will begin with Pre-K, including reading literacy at several K-12 levels, and include career readiness and preparation for post-secondary education.

“…All of those are integral pieces of the process, and so if you break that out into individual bills and one piece or two pieces of those don’t make it through the process, then you’ve actually put a kink in the whole growth process of that student from pre-K to 12,” he said. “I think that’s the impact and the stimulus behind there being one complete bill because it encompasses the whole process and the growth of the child.”

Political observers and other state lawmakers have also indicated the omnibus bill will require legislators to vote up or down on one bill even if they don’t agree with all aspects of it. With Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly, the bill is expected to pass with ease.

School choice – also known as vouchers, education savings accounts, or parental empowerment – will be a key focus of Sanders’ plan. What that final product will look like is not fully determined yet, Evans said.

“That’s not been finalized yet, but certainly we have options already in the state, but students have been somewhat bound to their zip code and the ability that the parent had through the school choice programs that we already have to get their students to those locations, but I see us going forward as having those opportunities available to every child,” he said.

When asked if state funding of students, roughly $11,000 per child now, will be allowed to follow a student to a new school district, private school or home school program, Evans said that is part of the conversation shaping the legislation.

“Currently, school districts are funded a year behind. They received the funding based upon the third quarter ADM [average daily membership] or the student population that was there in the third quarter of the previous year. If a student were to transfer from one district to the next or to another education option, that school district is still going to receive that funding the next year,” he said. “Then, currently the way that funding is set up is that if you have a certain percentage of loss within your district, then the state also provides declining enrollment fund as well, which would be in the second year, so districts would have at least two years then to be able to adjust budgets based upon their student population.”

Evans said the debate is about offering choices for parents to best meet “the needs of the student where those needs lay.”

In the interview, Evans commented on several other aspects of the education bill.

On teacher pay – “I think we’re getting very close. Obviously, looking at the overall fiscal impact of that and being able to put the tools in the toolbox for the sustainability for our districts going forward. Back in the summer, during the adequacy program and the study that we do biannually, that was a big topic of conversation and both the House and the Senate were in unison that we had to make a large move on teacher compensation going forward so that we can remain competitive with our adjoining states and no one was opposed to that. It’s just the process that we need to go through to get there.”

On Pre-K, reading literacy investments – “It’s not going to be a quick fix. It’s going to be incremental growth, but the governor and her staff, that is a huge piece of that. I’ve been very blessed to have [Education] Secretary [Jacob] Oliva joining the conversations over the last couple of weeks, bringing his expertise in literacy, especially in areas that are ridden with poverty and low performing schools, and we’re going to see a big jump in that.”

You can watch Rep. Evans’ full interview in the video below.