The Conway School District is being proactive by watching the current legislative session happening at the capitol in Little Rock.
The Arkansas General Assembly — the state Senate consisting of 35 members and the House of Representatives with 100 — meet on the second Monday of every other year with sessions lasting around 60 days. During this time, the assembly gathers to make and amend the laws of the state of Arkansas.
The 91st General Assembly convened on Jan. 9. Since filing began on Nov. 15 and ended on March 6, more than 2,060 bills have been filed. Conway Superintendent Greg Murry said that 275 of those have to do with education, directly or indirectly, and that 35 of them have already been signed into law.
While it was recently pulled from the floor to be amended, (House Bill) HB1222, the voucher bill, is one he said the district is watching closely.
“I am adamantly opposed to vouchers and I think you can understand that,” Murry said.
He said there are multiple “interestingly troublesome” issues about HB1222 including there being no income limit as far as parents are concerned, which means a parent can make $300,000 and still qualify for the vouchers.
Though he is happy that a parent can make that amount, Murry said parents with that high of income shouldn’t need help to pay for private school.
Furthermore, he said, a parent has the ability to either use that amount and put it toward tuition costs or, after qualifying for the voucher, can use whatever portion they have left and put it into a college savings fund for their child.
Murry said children in public school would not have access to that, which seems unfair.
“Out of all the pieces that are in play right now, that is the one that is personally most disconcerting to me,” he said. “There is money that is going away from public education.”
Murry said he understands why parents would want their child to attend private school or take on the home school option.
“I understand that, and I’m not trying to take that right away,” he said. “I do think, however, that it is not the state of Arkansas’s responsibility to assist them to go to that private school. I think our responsibility has to do with the children we serve in public education.”
Murry said there are a couple of other bills — HB1539 and HB1729 — district officials also watching closely.
HB1539 requires students between their ninth and 12th grade year, to get 60 out of 100 questions correct on a civics test, identical to the civics portion of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization test, to become eligible for a high school diploma.
“Just an interesting twist, if you will, to what requirements we have as far as education is concerned,” Murry said.
HB1729 deals with school funding and keeping up with that will give the district an idea of how much they will receive next year, he said.
“We are always concerned about what kind of funding increase we receive from the state,” Murry said. “It looks like for each of the next two years, we will receive perhaps a 1 percent increase — $67 per child, $68 the second year.”
He said regardless of what passes, the district will find a way to make it work.