Education issue will be resolved by January 21, Jackson says

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

State legislators were back in session this week, intent on finding solutions for Arkansas' educational system, as mandated by the state Supreme Court.

Rep. Phil Jackson, who serves on the education committee, said he believes the issue will be resolved by Jan. 21, despite difficulties encountered along the way.

"We've worked on this a long time," he said. "The legislature has not been able to get the information it needs from the Department of Education. That makes it more difficult."

A stop-gap bill that was recently passed by the legislature in an effort to satisfy the state Supreme Court's Jan. 1 deadline has already been challenged by the Lake View school district.

Jackson said the bill was unnessary.

"In my mind, it was not needed," he explained. "It was just an insurance policy. We'll have something in place soon."

According the Jackson, the "best case scenario" for the state's educational system would include the passage of: Senate Bill 28, with amendments; a portion of Senate Bill 1049, the funding formula; and passage of Senate Bill 33, addressing adequacy and accountability.

SB 28 as it stands, calls for the reorganization and consolidation of administration and high schools with populations of less than 500 students.

"The bill makes it sound easy, but long-term, it won't work," said Jackson, who noted that rural legislators oppose the bill as written because of several reasons.

"First, rural schools are performing better than larger schools at the same cost per student," he explained.

He also objected to the fact that some students would encounter longer bus rides as a result.

There were other problems with the bill, as presented, Jackson said.

"As an example, let's look at Alpena. All classrooms are on one campus. If you move just the high school, you have the same physical plant to maintain," he said. "In addition, you have a high school teacher who instructs a twelfth grade biology class and seventh grade science. You have to have teachers for both."

Jackson also noted that whichever neighboring school district that accepts Alpena high school students will likely be required to construct new classrooms to accommodate them because overcrowding is already a problem.

He said he believed that SB 28, after being amended to rectify these problems, was workable.

Jackson also said he was in favor of SB 1049, the funding formula bill that cleared the House of Representative and was currently before the state senate. "It was the only bill that addressed the Lake View lawsuit," he commented.

The third portion of Jackson's "best-case scenario" package is passage of SB 33, the accountability bill that has been approved by the state Senate and sent to the House.

Introduced by Sen. Steve Bryles, D-Blytheville, the bill is intended to improve the federal No Child Left Behind law by recognizing schools that are improving, increase standardized testing, require non-proficient students to participate in remediation programs, and classify schools on a scale of 1 to 5 based on improvement and performance.

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