Education reform has been a hot political issue in Arkansas over the last two years and there is no reversal in sight for the 85th Arkansas General Assembly as it convened Jan. 10 in Little Rock.
Newly elected Arkansas House District 82 Representative Curren Everett, said his first experiences as a representative will be a trial by fire, if one of his committee assignments is an indication.
"I was tickled when I learned I had been chosen to sit on the Education Committee," Everett said with a grin. "No doubt education will dominate (the Assembly's) agenda."
Everett said an independent audit last year determined it would take $2.3 billion to bring all Arkansas school facilities into compliance with state codes.
He said lawmakers will work hard to bring all schools into compliance, but finding $2.3 billion in revenue may be unrealistic.
"That number ($2.3 billion) will have to come down," Everett said. "Our schools need help, but I don't know if the people of this state can foot that kind of bill."
No matter what solution the General Assembly agrees to, it will undoubtedly encounter opposition, Everett said.
Last year rural educators were in an uproar after 55 school districts were forced into consolidation or annexation by the Arkansas Education Department.
The Education Department determined that school districts with less than 350 students could not meet educational requirements.
Williford, Mount Pleasant, and Evening Shade were among area schools forced to consolidate last year.
Everett, a former school teacher and Fulton County judge, is one of seven new members placed on the education committee. Everett's other committee assignments include City, Court and Local Affairs Committee and the Joint Audit Committee.
Past work experience is a factor in which committee assignments new representatives receive, said Everett.
Besides education reform, Everett said the General Assembly will work on a bill to fund a new highway construction program and health care.
In his biennial state of the state address Jan. 11, Gov. Mike Huckabee endorsed a $1 billion highway improvement program, focusing on improving interstate highways.
Everett said he favors a highway plan in which individual cities and towns receive money for local road projects.
A similar plan was enacted by the Legislature six years ago.
"This highway project stuff could be pretty dicey, too," Everett said. "Besides education, the highway bill could be the most controversial legislation."
No matter what plan is enacted, Everett said he will actively seek money for improvements to Highway 62/412.
Everett said over the next several weeks lawmakers will discuss possible bills, make revisions and consider several proposals to improve higher education and health care by Huckabee.
He said the General Assembly will not pass any legislation until the middle of February at the earliest.
The session is slated to end the second week in April, but may run over, he said.
Is being a state legislator easier than being a county judge?
"It's hard to say at this point," Everett said. "I do know one thing, I sure liked being the county judge."