Education

Ever since the Central High School integration crisis in 1957, the image of public education in Arkansas in the national consciousness has ... not been one associated with progressive best-practices, but Arkansas public schools did turn out a president and a number of world class artists and scientists. Today, though, the state ranks near the bottom of most indexes of student achievement. 

Lindsay Johnson / National Pubic Radio

A bill to create educational savings accounts for Arkansas students failed in the Arkansas House today on a 46 to 39 vote Friday.

The so-called “Parental Choice Program,” SB 746, was not written to be a traditional vouchers program financed directly by the state. Instead it would have created non-profit organizations to funnel contributions from taxpayers and corporations to parents for their children’s school of choice. Donors to those organizations would get a 65 percent tax credit at an estimated $3 million annual cost to the state for three of a four-year pilot.

J. Froelich / Arkansas Public Media

Last May, sisters Anais, Elise and Emory Bowerman spent the night at a Girl Scout slumber camp in Lowell. The girls came home the next day covered with ticks. 

“One second my life was going great," says Anais, 11. "Then a tick bites me and it’s all ruined.”

Anais, a budding artist, says her hands started to shake. Her sisters Elise, 10, and Emory, 7, also started to feel ill.

“I threw up twice," Emory says. "I felt sluggish and my head was kind of dizzy.” 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Schools in Arkansas get $6,600 for every student. So when kids leave a public school, the money leaves too. The state chips in temporarily to cover the financial loss, but a pair of lawmakers want to end that.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Public school districts in Arkansas regularly buy and sell property, pending approval of local education boards, of course. But today, the Arkansas Senate approved a bill that would take some of that control away.

Senate Bill 308 would allow charter schools the right to purchase or lease unused public school buildings, a seemingly small concession that nonetheless raises big questions about local versus state control of schools and inspired a heated back and forth between senators this week.

Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) said Tuesday that some public school districts let buildings sit empty, a misfortune he equated to murdering a building.

“We have had schools literally rot to the ground rather than let someone use them for educational purposes. That should never happen.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) had a lot of questions for Clark. She told a Senate Education Committee Tuesday that the bill is heavy handed, and she said it takes local control from public districts.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Teachers in Arkansas’s lowest paying districts could see a small pay bump in their salaries soon.

A bill to increase minimum teacher salary in Arkansas is headed to the Senate Education Committee. It would bring the lowest paid Arkansas teachers up $400 dollars from the current $31,000 minimum.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Davida Walls never thought she would be teaching high school biology, let alone in the first few months after graduating from college at 22.

“Teaching was not my initial goal. It was kind of an opportunity that just, you know, became available so I took it.”

She is trying to decide whether to become a doctor or a nurse, and plans to apply for a program to train for one or the other this year.

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Representatives of the U.S. State Department met with more than two dozen teachers and nonprofit leaders inside the Ron Robinson Theater today to share work and celebrate the close of the first-in-the-nation Declaration of Learning pilot program in schools throughout Arkansas.

It was, in some ways, the culmination of an agenda set forth by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the waning days of her tenure.

The Arkansas Declaration of Learning program enlisted 26 teachers from around the state, most located in or near the population centers of Little Rock or Northwest Arkansas, but some small-town teachers as well such as Nicole Bledsoe at Mena High, Nancy Spencer of Buffalo Island Central Junior High in Leachville, and Susan Youngblood of Manila High.

Family of Jeremiah Adams

At 8 years old, Jeremiah Adams is starting to read for the first time. He was delayed several years in public school because of his slow reading, but his family says this new private school is changing him. He notices his surroundings in new ways, approaches learning differently, even insists on going to school.

“Before where he wouldn’t even pick up a book, now he wants to read," says grandmother Petra Delarosa. "Now we’re driving to school, he’ll see a word like on a billboard or something he’ll say, ‘Nana, how do you say this?’ ‘Nana did I say that right?' 'What does that mean, Nana?' Before he wouldn’t do that at all.”

This fall, Adams is one of 100 special education students around the state who moved from public schools to private ones under Arkansas’s first voucher program, the Succeeds Scholarship.

The program was approved during the 2015 legislative session with an initial $800,000 in public funding to be managed by the Reform Alliance, a Walton Family Foundation project.

Legislators Monday missed a deadline to agree on a plan for education funding increases known as "adequacy."

A 22 year-old Arkansas Supreme Court decision, commonly referred to as "Lake View," requires lawmakers to fund education adequately before other appropriations are taken up. But lawmakers in the education committee were unable to agree about how much of a funding boost to give to schools.

Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Legislators Monday missed a deadline to agree on a plan for education funding increases known as "adequacy."

A 22 year-old Arkansas Supreme Court decision, commonly referred to as "Lake View," requires lawmakers to fund education adequately before other appropriations are taken up. But lawmakers in the education committee were unable to agree about how much of a funding boost to give to schools.

Kindergarteners
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Marvell-Elaine schools bus driver Larry Greer’s route twists through the Arkansas Delta, between the White and Mississippi Rivers. “All together I go from Elaine to Snow Lake, 65 miles round trip,” he said, while elementary school kids filed onto his bus for the afternoon ride home.

These are country bus stops along country roads. The way is long. In the morning, Greer says, he will wait only so long at an empty stop before he snaps his levered doors closed again. “If they don’t come out, they’re not going that day.”

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

University of Arkansas Medical Sciences sonography student Debra Howell is a nontraditional 35-year-old whose father came from Belize. She has one more year to finish her bachelor’s degree. In addition to a 40-hour a week residency, Howell must find time to study — and care for her kids. She works 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays as an X-ray technician.

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Last week students across Arkansas returned to the classroom, and the heavens approved. The clouds huddled close and offered the state a fill of rain. Cooler temperatures kept new school duds light and loose.

The man-made change of “season” — summer to school year — seemed to be accompanied by a very real one.

Not so for a select student demographic at places such as KIPP Delta Preparatory Academy in Helena-West Helena and eStem Public Charter School in downtown Little Rock. Oh, it rained there, too, but these schools opened days, even weeks ago.

The Department of Human Services director today announced the roll out of a new command structure, and with it, a number of raises for a handful of its directors.

At the 104th commencement for Central High School, more than 600 graduates formed two lines and marched through the bowels of Verizon Arena. The crowd inside the stadium filled all of the lower bowl and much of the upper.

On stage sat not a single elected representative of the local school district. For the second commencement in as many years, the city’s schools are being managed by the state and Education Commissioner Johnny Key.