LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas House has approved legislation that would require public school districts to develop policies to allow home- and private-schooled students to enroll for individual classes.
There are about 20,000 home-schooled students in Arkansas, according to the Department of Education. Around 270 home-schooled students are currently enrolled in classes across 72 districts in the state.
Republican Rep. Mark Lowery's sponsored the bill that passed Thursday despite opposition from some members of both parties, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The measure expands on the Department of Education's Act 173 of 2017, which permits home-schooled and private school students to attend classes in their local school districts.
"What has happened, though, in those two years — I'm sure it's not the first time you've heard that you've passed legislation and school districts come up with their own reasons to not follow through on the law. Some school districts have denied that right subjectively, not with any set policy," Lowery said on the House floor. "All this bill does is it mandates that school districts will adopt a policy, but the policy can contain any number of things."
Research by the University of Arkansas' Office of Education Policy indicates that more home-schoolers might enroll in their local public schools if Act 173 was better promoted. The study also found a lack of involvement in the first year of the program from some of the state's largest districts, including those in Springdale, Bentonville, Cabot, Jonesboro, North Little Rock and Fort Smith.
Lowery noted earlier this week that lawmakers could reconsider the issue in two years with improved data on the program's usage. He also said that the bill includes several exemptions. Districts could request a waiver from the mandate, or could limit enrollment if the extra students would cause them to lose money.
Administrators have voiced concerns that allowing outside students to enroll in classes could affect a district's attendance. Lawmakers said they would tweak the measure to prevent that.