Category Archives: Education

The return of recess?

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Can more time in recess and less time in class help students learn better? That’s a question some schools in Arkansas will try to help answer.

Under state law, elementary students must have 40 minutes of physical education each week and 90 minutes of additional physical activity, such as recess. That’s 18 minutes per day.

Act 1062 sets up a pilot program for the 2018-19 school year that basically triples that amount in some schools. In addition to physical education, students in grades K-4 will get 60 minutes of “unstructured and undirected play” each day, while students in grades five and six will have 45 minutes. Two schools in each of the state’s 15 education service cooperatives – groups of school districts that share resources – will participate, along with two more schools not involved in cooperatives. The Arkansas Department of Education will write the rules. The results will be studied and used to enact future policy.

Blessed is the peacemaker

Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, left, and Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, share an embrace after McGill’s speech.
By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Over the course of a three-month session, legislators make thousands of speeches at the Capitol. Last Friday, Rep. George McGill, D-Fort Smith, gave one of the most memorable – ever.

The issue was Senate Bill 519 by Sen. David Wallace, R-Leachville, and Rep. Grant Hodges, R-Rogers, which reserves each third Monday in January as a day to honor Dr. Martin Luther King.

This year, Arkansas was one of three states, the others being Alabama and Mississippi, that honored King and Gen. Robert E. Lee on the same day – the result of an unfortunate historical coincidence along with a lack of sensitivity. In 1947, Arkansas made a state holiday out of Lee’s birthday Jan. 19. King’s birthday was made a federal holiday in 1983, which meant there would be two state holidays at about the same time each year. Lawmakers did not want state employees to have another paid vacation day, so in 1985, Gov. Bill Clinton signed a bill combining the holidays.

Death, taxes and Lake View

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

We’ve all heard the old Benjamin Franklin adage that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. For many years Arkansans have been able to add “public schools getting more money” to that list.

That’s because of a series of 1992-2007 court decisions in a case initially filed by the Lake View School District, a small, poor district in the Delta. Those decisions clarified that the state has a constitutional responsibility to ensure schools everywhere are adequate and equitable. The decisions basically required the state to fund schools first without regard to how much money was readily available or how it would affect other state priorities.

Since then, any debate about public school funding started and ended with two words: “Lake” and “View.” Nobody has wanted a repeat of that experience, where judges, justices and special masters stood over the state’s shoulder making sure it was filling in all the circles to their satisfaction.

School work to be finished early

Bruce Cozart is chairman of the House Education Committee.
Bruce Cozart is chairman of the House Education Committee.
By Steve Brawner
© 2016 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

The Arkansas Legislature goes into session in January, but some of the most important decisions will be completed this month, without much debate.

That’s because, by Nov. 1, the House and Senate Education Committees will complete the state’s adequacy report, the biennial (once every two years) document that governs how and how much (always more) the state spends on K-12 public education.

The adequacy report was created in the wake of the Lake View case, a lawsuit brought on by a poor, rural school district in the Delta. A series of court decisions said the state wasn’t spending enough on education and wasn’t spending it in the right places – including on students like those in Lake View. In response, Arkansas consolidated schools (Lake View ended up being one) and poured money into education at a time when other states were cutting spending.