Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeAll The NewsLEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Arkansas Family Council

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE: Arkansas Family Council

Homeschool Bills to Watch

A bad home school testing bill has been filed at the Arkansas Legislature. HB 1587 by Rep. Jim Wooten (R/Beebe) requires home schoolers to take a nationally recognized norm-referenced test every year in order to receive any form of public funds. The way this bill is written, home schoolers in Arkansas would have to test if they receive any type of public assistance or any type of grant or scholarship paid for with state or federal funds. The testing requirements in HB 1587 do not seem to be connected to the LEARNS Act that Gov. Sanders recently signed into law.

The LEARNS Act creates a voluntary school choice program in Arkansas, and it requires private school and home school students to take a norm-referenced test each year in order to participate in that voluntary school choice program. Most home schoolers would not be eligible to apply to be part of the LEARNS Act’s school choice program until 2025.

HB 1587 would take effect this summer, and it would require home school families to take a state-mandated test in order to receive any type of public funds. It seems highly unlikely that HB 1587 will pass in the Arkansas Legislature — especially with less than a month left in the 2023 session. However, it is worth pointing out that the State of Arkansas used to require home schoolers to take a state-mandated test.

In 2009, Arkansas’ home schoolers performed better on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills than 61%–80% of the students who took that test, nationwide. According to the 2013-2014 Home School Report from the Arkansas Department of Education, in 2014 home schoolers in grades 3-9 scored anywhere from the 51st percentile to the 65th percentile on that same test. In fact, home schoolers in Arkansas performed so well on standardized tests that the Arkansas Legislature finally ended state-mandated home school testing in 2015. There is simply no reason to bring home school testing back.

Homeschool Sports

On March 8, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill expanding interscholastic opportunities for home schoolers. SB 361 by Sen. Matt McKee (R/Pearcy) and Rep. Cameron Cooper (R/Romance) amends Arkansas’ “Tim Tebow” law that lets home schoolers participate in athletics and other interscholastic activities at their local public schools. The “Tebow” law is named after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow who was able to play football as a home schooler thanks to a similar law in Florida.

SB 361 makes it easier for home schoolers to participate in an activity in a neighboring school district if their local district doesn’t offer the activity. It also clarifies requirements in the “Tebow” law about enrollment in public school classes and about the waiting period for students who withdraw from a public school to start home schooling. As we said when lawmakers passed it in 2013, the “Tim Tebow” law is about school choice. It empowers families by providing children with interscholastic options as well as educational options. That’s how it should be.

Last summer, Family Council obtained government data showing at least 463 home schooled students utilized the “Tim Tebow” law in 2021. The “Tim Tebow” law is a good law that Family Council has been pleased to support over the years.

New Bills Filled

On March 13, lawmakers at the Arkansas Legislature filed HB 1605, a bill that would legalize Delta-8 THC, a cannabinoid found in both hemp and marijuana plants. Unlike medical marijuana, Delta-8 is currently unregulated under Arkansas law. Because it, like marijuana, impairs users and poses a danger to children, several states have passed laws making the product illegal. Instead of making Delta-8 illegal, HB 1605 regulates it by making Delta-8 legal for persons over age 21.

HB 1605 is a bad bill. How many times will voters have to tell lawmakers that they don’t want recreational marijuana in any form? They made this very clear at the polls last November when they soundly rejected recreational marijuana. The people are smart enough to know that Arkansas does not need another drug problem.

The marijuana industry failed at the polls last November. Now they are trying to succeed by walking the halls of our State Capitol and influencing our elected officials. Right now, Arkansas law does not specifically address drugs like Delta-8 THC made from industrial hemp. Instead of prohibiting drugs like Delta-8 THC, HB 1605 enacts regulations that let wealthy companies manufacture and sell these dangerous drugs under the state’s industrial hemp law.

The regulations in HB 1605 are not sufficient enough to protect Arkansans from drugs. This bill puts the Tobacco Control Board in charge of drugs made from cannabis. Our state has had enough problems with underage drinking and underage smoking that we know this bill’s regulatory framework won’t protect kids from being exposed to these other drugs as well. Lawmakers could pass a measure that would actually restrict drugs made from industrial hemp. About a dozen other states have made it illegal, but this bill takes Arkansas in the wrong direction.

All Arkansans need to make their voices heard on H.B. 1605. Over the past decade we have seen drug problems worsen in states that have legalized marijuana. Now is not the time to legalize drugs in Arkansas. We are urging voters to contact their legislators in the Arkansas House of Representatives and in the Arkansas Senate and politely ask them to oppose H.B. 1605, the bill to legalize drugs made from cannabis. There is simply too much at stake for voters to sit this one out.

Another bill filed at the capitol on March 13 would help protect religious freedom and rights of conscience in Arkansas. HB 1615 by Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R/Elm Springs) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R/Branch) makes important clarifications to the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act that lawmakers passed in 2015.

It also helps safeguard the ability of religious people and religious organizations to operate according to their deeply held convictions. The Free Exercise of Religion and the right to live according to our deeply held convictions are fundamental rights that our laws are supposed to safeguard. HB 1615 is a good bill that helps protect those liberties from encroachment by the government.