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Rules being written will enhance Arkansas education bill, lawmakers say at Fayetteville forum

by Doug Thompson | March 4, 2023 at 5:20 a.m.
The city of Fayetteville logo is seen at City Hall on Feb. 14, 2017. (File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Extensive rules being written will resolve many of the concerns about the governor's education bill, lawmakers told a forum in Fayetteville.

Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs, expects rules to prevent fraud and abuse of the bill's home-schooling provisions to be among the most extensive of all the implementing regulations currently being drafted by the state, she said. Lundstrum and Rep. Steve Unger, R-Springdale, met with constituents at a forum organized by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce

The chamber's "Face to Face with Your Legislators" events are held at 4 p.m. each Friday while the Legislature is in session. The events take place at the chamber's "Fab Lab" Innovation Center on the town square in Fayetteville.

Other rules being drafted should prevent "school skipping" under the school choice provisions of the bill, Lundstrum said. "We don't want parents getting mad at the basketball coach and pulling their kid out of school," she said.

The bill's provision giving all public school teachers a raise is not getting enough emphasis, audience member Adella Gray of Fayetteville told the lawmakers. Gray is a former Fayetteville City Council member. There is a widespread impression that only teachers who are below the bill's new $50,000 a year minimum salary would get a raise, she said. Page 73 of the 145-page amended bill includes this provision: "For the 2023-2024 school year, each teacher shall be paid a salary that is at least $2,000 greater than his or her current salary as of September 1, 2022."

Senate Bill 294 containing the governor's education package passed the House on Thursday and goes back for concurrence and final passage next week. The state's Board of Education and Education Department face a challenge to write all the needed rules implementing the bill in time, Lundstrum acknowledged in an interview after the forum. Many of the bill's provisions would start with the next academic year.

The legislative session is on track to adjourn in April, most likely in the second week of April, Lundstrum and Unger told the forum. Major legislation on criminal justice reform is expected, they said. There will also be an income tax cut, but the size of that cannot be determined until the education bill and crime bill are through the budget process, Lundstrum said. Lawmakers must know the costs of those before addressing any changes to the state income tax, she said.

Suzanne Clark of Fayetteville asked the lawmakers how the state planned to pay for the education package. Lundstrum replied the bill would be phased in and paying for it would be an ongoing process. "This is not like a light switch," all going on at once, she said.

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