General Assembly returns to the Old State House
Among my other activities last week, I was honored to attend the annual Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) meeting. I have mentioned earlier that SREB is an education coalition with membership and support of the 16 southern states and with a mission of gathering data and information outlining “what works”—and “what doesn’t work”—and “what’s happening”—to improve education for our students here and in our neighboring states. At SREB meetings representatives from each state are introduced to the best policies and practices to evaluate and try to implement in our schools.
At these recent SREB Board and Legislative Advisory Council meetings, we receive SREB’s detailed reports on educational progress in Arkansas and comparable data from other states as well. We again discussed the next steps for college—and career—readiness standards and educator effectiveness systems, and heard recommendations from the SREB Commission on Career and Technical Education and the SREB Commission on Community Colleges. (I was honored to be a member of the SREB Commission on Community Colleges.)
We also had a working group meeting on college affordability, highlighting each state’s goals for postsecondary attainment and what states are doing to reach them, focusing on tuition policies, financial aid and debt accumulation.
In summary, SREB is a working organization that researches and promotes good educational practices and policies for Pre-K through post secondary learning. I thoroughly enjoy the discussions. The meetings are rather like the summer classes that I took while I was teaching. I loved summer school, as a whole, because there I learned all schools/teachers share the same basic problems and we had meaningful exchanges of ideas for handling them. SREB has similar goals, but in a much larger venue. I am honored to represent Arkansas at these endeavors. I so respect and admire the SREB staff and their leadership. Thank you for the opportunity to serve!
Now I want to make you aware of the events planned for the Arkansas legislature beginning Monday, June 30. First, let’s look back to 1836 when Arkansas became the 25th state in the United States of America. That year Arkansas government officials moved into a new, but incomplete, Greek revival style building in downtown Little Rock now known as the Old State House Museum. The legislature moved from there to the present State Capitol in 1911. However, the legislature has returned to the Old State House twice since then to meet; once in 1951, to commemorate the building’s new role as the Old State House Museum, and again in 1983 for commemorative purposes.
Now a Special Session of the 89th General Assembly has been called by Governor Mike Beebe and we convened again at 4 p.m. Monday, June 30, in the Old State House. (Major restoration in the House Chamber has necessitated the House moving to another site for the proceedings and the Old State house was the chosen site.) The session is expected to last only three days and this will be the first time substantial legislation has been debated inside the Old State House in over a century.
So, on Monday this House body will find itself back at the birthplace of our state government, the Old State House Museum, the oldest standing State Capitol building west of the Mississippi River. I hope this historic event serves as an opportunity to remind Arkansans of the importance of preserving our heritage. The Old State House is a testament to our past and our progress. The last regular session that was held there occurred in 1909. This Special Session has been driven by a need to enact legislation addressing the rising costs of teacher’s insurance premiums again. The proposed legislation directed at teacher’s health insurance includes a bills to eliminate part-time employees from eligibility (although no savings are projected), require certain individuals to participate in health savings accounts, modify coverage for bariatric surgeries, and redefine dependents who are eligible for coverage. It will also affect state employees plans moderately (I am told.).
In the Governor’s official proclamation he has also called for funds to increase the number of prison beds available to state inmates. A possible ban on keno games in Arkansas may also be addressed.
As I said earlier, the session is projected to last three days. Let’s hope it is a period of true progress for Arkansas that rises above politics and posturing to be meaningful and lasting for our people.
I wish all of you a safe and happy July 4! While you celebrate, please take time to consider the “reason for the season”. I hope you will find time to end your day with a stirring rendition of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” on a Capital Fourth!
God bless you all and God bless America!