Arkansas Advocates 2021 Legislative Session Recap, Vol. 2

This was a short week for Arkansas’s 93rd General Assembly, with the Capitol closed Monday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The State House of Representatives was in recess on Wednesday, as House rules dictate for a presidential inauguration. Neither the Senate nor the House held meetings today.

If you’re interested in learning about major legislation impacting kids and families that will be considered this year and how to lobby at the Capitol, there is still time to sign up to attend the virtual Kids Count Week “at” the Capitol events next week.

Below is an overview of bills that Arkansas Advocates either supports or opposes that were filed or that made progress this week. We are monitoring many more bills, listed and frequently updated on our website. More information on AACF’s overall legislative priorities is here.

Bills AACF Supports

K-12 Education

Sen. Jonathan Dismang filed SB 140 this week. The bill would require school district boards of directors to include in student discipline policies the requirement that schools conduct an assessment of a student’s adverse childhood experiences before disciplining a student. It also would require the school district to include the results of that assessment in any report the public school drafts to explain the disciplinary actions administered by the public school to that student. It was assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Keith Ingram and Rep. Bruce Cozart filed SB 142, which was assigned this week to the Senate Education Committee. This bill would support public schools and open-enrollment charters that have been unable to accurately track changes in their average daily membership by changing how declining enrollment funding is calculated for the 2021-2022 school year and beyond.

SB 160 was filed this week by Sen. Bart Hester and Rep. DeAnn Vaught and assigned to the Senate Education Committee. This bill would require that, beginning in the next school year, all public school districts include teaching of the Holocaust and its causes. The curriculum must encourage tolerance of diversity “and reverence for human dignity for all citizens in a pluralistic society.” It would have the State Board of Education develop curriculum and materials.

SB 107, co-sponsored by Sen. Jane English and Rep. DeAnn Vaught, was removed from the Senate Education Committee agenda for amendment this week. The bill would require that each public high school provide a high quality computer science class tailored to meet the needs of each participating student and that each public high school to employ a computer science teacher.

HB 1169, sponsored by Rep. David Tollett, was transferred to the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Programs this week. The bill would reduce the requirements for voluntary teacher retirement for teachers who taught during the 2020-21 school year.

Racial Equity

HB 1203 was filed last Friday by Rep. Andrew Collins and Sen. Breanne Davis. This bill would repeal the state law that currently designates the Saturday before Easter Sunday as “Confederate Flag Day” in Arkansas. This week the bill was read and assigned to the House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs.

Bills AACF Opposes

K-12 Education

Last Friday Sen. Jane English and Rep. Mark Lowery filed SB 147. This bill would allow a student in a public school district to transfer to another school in the district if that school does not have an “F” rating and is closest to the residence of the child. If there is no school in the district that does not have an “F” rating, it would allow the student to apply to enroll in a school in a nonresident district if the school does not have an “F” rating. The bill is assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

Racial Equity

SB 24, filed by Sen. Bob Ballinger and Rep. Aaron Pilkington, would remove the duty to retreat, under certain circumstances, from Arkansas’s self-defense law. The so-called “Stand Your Ground” bill passed the Senate on Tuesday and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Mark Lowery and Sen. Gary Stubblefield filed HB 1218 last Friday, and this week the bill was assigned to the House Education Committee. This bill would have the state withhold partial funding from public schools and colleges that include teaching to promote social justice for a group of people on the basis of race, gender, social class, or political affiliation. It would also withhold funding if a school or college advocates for the solidarity of students based on those characteristics, or if it includes instruction designed for a particular ethnic group.

Rep. Mark Lowery and Sen. Gary Stubblefield filed HB 1231 this week. This bill would reduce funding to schools that include in their curriculum the “1619 Project.” That’s the New York Times’ sweeping investigation of the of history racial disparity in the United States, beginning with the first slave ships that arrived here more than 400 years ago. The bill is assigned to the House Committee on Education.