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State Capitol in review - May 14, 2014

The Quality Digital Learning Study Committee recommended last week that the state run a centralized broadband network to provide Internet service to schools around the state.

The committee said the lack of bandwidth is starting to cause problems for schools as more standardized tests move to online formats. Legislation requires every school to provide at least one interactive online course beginning this fall. Adequate Internet access becomes even more difficult for smaller rural districts who are limited by geography and class size.

Gov. Mike Beebe is recommending James “Tony” Wood to succeed Tom Kimbrell as state education commissioner when Kimbrell leaves next month to be superintendent of Bryant public schools. Wood is currently second in command at the Arkansas Department of Education, which oversees the 238 school districts and nearly two dozen charter school systems that serve the state’s 475,000 public school students.

On the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, Arkansas 12th graders were behind the national averages in math and reading. Many scored below proficient, but they made gains in comparison with the 2009 scores. Arkansas and Connecticut were the only two states to makes gains in both subjects. So we are on the right path.

The Arkansas Department of Education Board voted to put the Lee County Education District under state control for chronically low academic achievement and financial issues. It dissolves the school board and makes the superintendent report to the state education commissioner. It also voted to take the Hector school district because of fiscal distress.

At the same time, Mineral Springs School District will regain local control Oct. 1 after a new school board is elected and trained. The district has been under the state control for the last year and has gotten out of fiscal distress. The Norphlet and Smackover school districts will merge and become the Smackover-Norphlet district in July. This merger was approved by the State Board of Education.

The State Board of Education is a nine-member board composed of two members from each congressional district and the remainder at large, all appointed by the governor for seven-year terms. The board meets the second Thursday and Friday of each month. It is the policy making body of the public elementary and secondary schools. Their website has the agenda and more information on it, www.arkansased.org/state-board.

The Department of Education website has information about school performance, core curriculum, and other educational information. That site is www.arkansased.org. If you have a child in public school it is worth checking out.

Early voting is taking place with regular election on May 20; be sure to take a photo ID with you. It can be driver’s license, school ID or any government issued ID with a photo.

If you would like to contact mem email me at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov or call me at my office number at 650-1884, or write me at P.O. Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.

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