Education Hot Issue at Farm Bureau Conference

July 22, 2003 - Posted at: 4:35 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- For a second day, members of the Arkansas Farm Bureau focussed on the state's education crisis as part of its 55th annual conference at Arkansas State University.

Reforming Arkansas' education system, and school consolidation were the hot topics of debate during the two-day meeting.

"I don't think there could be a more timely topic this year," said David Hillman, president of the Farm Bureau. "With the legislature coming into session to deal exclusively with education sometime this fall."

Hillman added that Arkansas Farm Bureau believes that every child should get and education, saying that Tuesday's discussion brings the state even closer to that goal.

Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, endorsed House Bill 2528, The Arkansas Student Assessment and Educational Accountability Act of 2003, which calls for comprehensive testing of students, and district accountability.

"We think it's important that the people out in the State of Arkansas understand these issues," Hussman said. "Because for this to happen legislation has to be passed, and for legislation to be passed people in this state need to support education reform and talk to their legislators about it."

Jimmy Cunningham, President of the Rural Education Association was also a featured speaker.  Cunningham's promoted a panel discussion on school consolidation.

"There's a lot of frustration in the state, we don't know when the session is going to be called," said Cunningham.  "We want a compromise of some kind, but basically the Superintendents of Arkansas are not going to tolerate a number to be placed on a consolidation plan."

Farm Bureau member Roger Pitchford said, "I liked the fact that they weren't pushing consolidation, they were pushing standards and I can support that."

Support will be critical as legislators map out plans for revamping the state's school system.