Ninth in a series of articles intended to make the contents of the Arkansas LEARNS Act accessible to the ordinary reader.
Facilities funding for open-enrollment public charter schools. This section stablishes a fund and authorizes a contract with a third-party administrator to administer the program.
This is another reading-related mandate, requiring screening of a particular kind.
The screening is to be conducted using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) or “an equivalent screener.”
The object of the screening is to determine “phonological and phonemic awareness.” The six components are:
1 Sound symbol recognition
2 Alphabet knowledge
3 Decoding skills
4 Rapid naming
5 Encoding skills
6 Language comprehension
If this screening shows risk for dyslexia, further screening and intervention is called for. Any students K-12 still experiencing difficulty “in fluency or spelling” will be screened further.
All students in grades 3-12 experiencing difficulty in fluency or spelling are screened using a division approved screener, and students in need of it will “receive early intervention by a trained interventionist.”
This extremely long section (about 3,600 words) of regulations relates to the administration of a voucher program for special categories of children:
(1) Students in foster care
(2) Students with a disability
(3) Students who are children of a member of the uniformed services.
Called the “Succeed Scholarship Program, the vouchers provide money for a limited number of eligible children to attend a private school.
Workforce reporting and information —This section calls for developing, publishing, and maintaining a strategic workforce dashboard and related resources that will provide, at a minimum, information to job seekers.
High school course credit—This section specifies examinations that can result in course credit. Included are the Advanced Placement examination; CLEP examination, and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.
The Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board, after consultation with the State Board of Education, shall identify a minimum core of high school courses recommended for preparation for college.
Section 50 Another drain of tax money to the private sector.
Section 51 Another reading “fix” that requires specially trained personnel and sends money to the private sector. (Section 53 acknowledges the existence of the growing teacher shortages in this country.)
The recommended testing service, DIBELS, carries a charge of one dollar per student per year, plus the cost of purchasing or printing paper materials. There is also a one-time $200 set up fee for new accounts
Parents need to take a really good look at this section. Parents have the power to save their children—and themselves—a lot of grief by doing their part before the first day of kindergarten.
Section 52 The Arkansas legislature allocates three million dollars of state tax money for the voucher program.” Another three million dollars is available from federal tax money.
During the 2020-21 school year, 493 students qualified for the vouchers at about $6,325 per student. Twenty of the vouchers went to children in foster care. Twenty. According to recent figures, 4,580 Arkansas children are in foster care.
Another category of children eligible for the vouchers is that of children with disabilities. In the 2015-2016 school years, 18,448 Arkansas school children were identified with specific learning disabilities (SLD). This, by the way, is not the only disability to be considered.
On the surface, the voucher system may seem like a good thing. In fact, it represents a Band-Aid solution for state-wide problems. The money would be better spent within the public school system.
It cannot be repeated too often. Effective public education is the responsibility of the state legislature. Farming out education solutions to private entrepreneurs is dereliction of duty.