Last night at 7:30 pm, the Arkansas House of Representatives killed a bill that would have allowed home school students to compete fairly for the Governor’s Distinguished Scholar scholarships.
SB578 was a bill that both the Education Alliance and the Department of Higher Education agreed upon. It was a non-controversial solution to a major problem: Overwhelmingly-qualified home schoolers being denied their scholarships.
Last year we had two National Merit Scholars, with a score of 34 and 35 on the ACT, who were denied the scholarships. The reason? By law, the State only awards 300 scholarships, and if more than 300 students apply, the State looks at the student’s class rank and school leadership qualifications. Home schoolers don’t have a traditional “class rank”. Home schoolers can be upstanding leaders, but not in the traditional sense at school (i.e. Class President, Student Council, etc.).
We didn’t even believe the bill would be tremendously controversial. It fixes a very real flaw in the law, and the Department of Higher Education supported it. Representative Johnnie Roebuck (D-Arkadelphia) was the one who lead the effort to kill SB578 along with Rep. Randy Stewart (D-Kirby).
Rep. Roebuck indicated her opposition to other supporters of the bill. We offered to amend the bill to address some of her concerns. We were subsequently told by other representatives she still wanted to defeat the bill.
Last night, Rep. Roebuck fought SB578 on the floor of the House of Representatives. The bill was voted on, and it failed. Rep. Roebuck then moved “clincher” on the bill—a parliamentary dagger through the heart that prevents the bill from being brought back up for consideration.
I don’t know why Rep. Roebuck doesn’t want home schoolers to receive the Governor’s Distinguished Scholar scholarship. No home schoolers received it last year. National Merit Scholars were denied. The Department of Higher Education estimates that with the growing number of students applying for the scholarship, home schoolers will likely never receive the Governor’s Distinguished Scholar scholarship unless the law is changed.
There are still a couple of days left in the session, if you want to come down to the Capitol to meet with Rep. Roebuck and ask her why she took the position that she did on the bill. You can also contact her using the information below.
You can watch video of the debate on SB578 here: http://familycouncil.org/?p=2303
A list of lawmakers voting for and against the bill is available here: http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2011/2011R/Pages/Votes.aspx?rcsnum=1627&votechamber=House
Every home schooled applicant was denied a scholarship last year. Every one will be denied this year. And unless the law changes, no home schooler is likely to receive a Governor’s Distinguished Scholar scholarship ever again.
You can call your representative about this issue at (501) 682-6211.
We are still fighting for your home school rights. Below is a letter I sent to the representatives who did not vote for SB578.
Last night, your failure to support SB 578 was a serious vote against the home schoolers of Arkansas. This was an agreed-upon bill with the Department of Higher Education. The Department of Higher Education had worked with Sen. Baker for most of the session to fix problems with the Governor’s Distinguished Scholar Scholarships. Your failure to support the bill last night has upended that process.
As you know, only 300 of the best and brightest students from public, private, and home schools can be Governor’s Distinguished Scholars. That’s all the current law allows. The law also specifies that ACT scores, class rank, GPA, and leadership are to be considered. Students receiving this scholarship pretty much get their entire college education paid for as long as they go to college in Arkansas.
Students must have a minimum of 32 on their ACT in order to compete for the scholarship. Last year, because of problems with existing law, the Department of Higher Education was unable to award any of these scholarships to the 16 home schooled students who would have otherwise qualified. All of these students made higher than 32 on their ACT, but were disqualified. Most had considerably higher scores than the students from public and private schools who received the scholarships. Two of the home schoolers had scores of 34 and 35 on the ACT and were National Merit Scholars, yet our current law prevented the Department of Higher Education from awarding the scholarship to even these students.
They were disqualified because the Department of Higher Education had to follow a law that is outmoded. The way our current law is written, it appears that no home schooler will ever receive the Governor’s Distinguished Scholar Scholarship. SB 578 had the blessing of the Department of Higher Education because it fixed this problem. This is why it had no opposition from anyone in the education community. Your failure to support this bill has left us with serious problems that need to be fixed before the session ends.