Legislative Session Preview

While working for Governor Beebe, one of my biggest tasks was reading, analyzing, and tracking all education-related bills as they were filed during legislative sessions. The 2013 session starts Monday, and on this blog, I plan to post frequent updates, as well as my analysis, of many of the education, and some non-education, bills as they’re filed. So to get started, let’s take a look at a few of the education bills that have been pre-filed:

  • HB1004 – This bill establishes an income tax credit for parents who spend more than $300 per year on tuition, book fees, and lab fees for a child in grades K-12. This is nothing more than a tax credit for parents who send their kids to private schools, and it’s a bill that’s filed almost every session, but never makes it out of committee. Though the bill does not exclude parents whose children attend public schools, the credit is limited to expenses for tuition and fees, and since public schools aren’t permitted to charge tuition or book fees, and since school supplies, uniforms, etc. are not included, no parent with a child in a public school will ever meet the $300 threshold. In my opinion, this bill is not good policy. I certainly do not oppose parents choosing to send their kids to private schools, but the State shouldn’t have to pay for it.
  • HB1015 – This bill removes cell phone/pager policies from the required discipline policy guidelines as defined by the State Board of Education, and rather, makes the establishment of such a policy optional for school districts. I don’t know the history behind this bill, but I don’t see a problem with it. I assume that most school districts want to have such a policy, and this may give districts more discretion in that regard.
  • HB1017 – This bill allows public schools to teach a “nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible” course as an elective. The bill specifies that the course shall meet constitutional standards, but I see two things wrong with the bill. First, it’s my understanding that there is nothing preventing a school from offering such a course now. All courses and their curriculum have to be approved by the Department of Education, but if a school district wants to put this kind of course together and seek approval, it’s free to do so. So, for the most part, this bill doesn’t really do anything. Second, regardless of whether the course is actually taught in a nonreligious manner, this is opening the door to a constitutional challenge. The bill looks like it passes constitutional muster on its face, but as applied, it’s bound to be challenged, and in my opinion, just isn’t worth it. Again, this bill has been filed before.

This is just a sample of what I plan to do during the session. I won’t write about every bill, but I hope to cover the most important ones in pre-k, k-12 and higher education, as well as a few non-education bills that I think could be important to school districts and educators.

And one more thing, my opinion about the bills I analyze on blog  is just that, my opinion. My opinions in no way reflect that of any other group or organization.

 

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