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Friday, May 6, 2016

State Capitol Week in Review

Thursday, March 11, 2004

The General Assembly reconvened for one day at the state Capitol to put the finishing touches on education reform legislation. It is customary for lawmakers to reconvene a few weeks after the final working day of a legislative session. During that time, staff and attorneys closely read all bills that have been passed, looking for typographical errors or oversights. When legislators reconvene they correct any errors that have been discovered.

Also, reconvening provides the Legislature an opportunity to override gubernatorial vetoes. After completing work on education bills the Legislature recessed until June 9. The Senate and House voted to override the governor's veto of House Bill 1034, which creates the Arkansas Commission for Coordination of Educational Efforts.

The Commission will be composed of representatives from all areas of education, from pre-kindergarten through graduate school. Workforce education will be represented, as will colleges that are predominately African-American.

The Commission will work to better coordinate schedules and policies among all levels of learning. For example, it will recommend methods of offering more college courses and advanced placement courses to high school students. When those students enroll in college, they will have a head start on getting a degree.

The Commission will recommend a common calendar, so that vacations, class and testing schedules coincide.

One goal will be to make it easier for students to transfer course credits when they transfer from one college to another. The difficulty of transferring credits can be especially frustrating for students in two-year colleges who want to transfer to four-year institutions. The Commission will work to align the curricula so that high school students can more easily adapt to the academic demands of college classes.

Also, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 49. The measure makes it easier for parents to take advantage of school choice laws by requiring school superintendents to comply with the School Choice Act of 1989. The effect of the legislation will be to make sure that superintendents are informed in a timely manner when students apply for transfers.

On Feb. 6 the Legislature completed a historic special session on education reform. It lasted 61 days and was the longest special session since the state has been keeping records. Legislators approved new laws that will raise teacher salaries and increase education funding in high poverty areas. Students, teachers and schools will be more accountable.

The Supreme Court has appointed two special masters to review the Legislature's accomplishments. They will report to the court by April 3 on whether the recently enacted education reforms comply with the state Constitution. When the Legislature reconvenes on June 9, legislators can respond to any deficiencies cited by the special masters.