Senate Education Committee Begins Hearings

March 12, 2003
Posted at: 2:20 p.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The formal legislative discussion of Governor Huckabee's education overhaul plan is under way. When it will end is still in doubt.

The Senate Education Committee Wednesday heard a detailed explanation from state Education Director Ray Simon of the bill that would consolidate most high schools in districts with fewer than 1500 students by July 1, 2004. No vote was taken.

Sponsoring Senator Jim Argue of Little Rock says he wants the bill on a fast track but will not call for a vote until all questions are answered. In the meeting, Simon said few if any of the nearly 32,000 teachers would lose their jobs under as districts are restructured. But the education director could not say how many of the 2300 administrators would be put out of work.

The committee will take up the bill again Friday, along with an alternative that would give all districts three years to meet higher standards.

The governor's school district restructuring proposal would allow exceptions for smaller districts that could meet higher standards for course offerings, teacher salaries and facilities. But they would have less than a year to do it.

Simon says higher standards will be set until an adequacy study is completed in September. Districts would then have until July 1, 2004, to meet them. Even with the exceptions, supporters of small rural districts say they fear that any legislation based on the size of a district gives education officials the opening to set standards so high that no small district could meet them.

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