Saturday, July 24, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – For kids it is the middle of summer, and for the state Board of Education it is time to prepare for the coming school year.

At its July meeting the state board approved a Public School Fund of almost $2.6 billion for the 2010-2011 school year. That will provide the bulk of revenue for 244 school districts in Arkansas that educate 465,000 students from kindergarten through grade 12. There are about 34,000 teachers in Arkansas and their average salary is $45,000, according to the state Education Department.

The Board also adopted a standard national curricula called Common Core State Standards, which means that in the future Arkansas students will learn the same material in the same grades as it is taught in all other states. It is a voluntary program. Until now, states have each taught K-12 according to their own individual guidelines, with no correlation to how other states structure their course offerings.

Texas and Alaska have not adopted the Common Core standards. An Education Department official said the national standards would be more rigorous than current Arkansas education standards, and will likely cause complaints until students and parents have become used to them. The new standards will not be in place during the 2010-2011 school year but will be phased in later. They will affect the teaching of math, English and language arts.

The Board also revoked the license of a charter school in Pine Bluff that has experienced financial problems and no longer is eligible to offer free and reduced-priced lunches.

Last year there were 18 open enrollment charter schools in Arkansas. Sponsoring organizations are preparing applications for 14 new charter schools, but even if all the groups follow through and submit applications they cannot all be approved by the Board of Education. State law limits the total number of charter schools in Arkansas to 24.

The deadline for submitting a letter of intent to apply for a charter school was June 30, and the deadline for submitting an application is August 31. If approved, the new charter schools would be able to open for the 2011-2012 school year.

Highway Projects

The Arkansas Highway Commission opened bids for 29 projects, totaling $52.7 million in contracts. The major project is significant for a large portion of eastern Arkansas - it is to replace the historic Highway 79 bridge across the White River at Clarendon.

The approaches and the span of the new bridge will extend five miles. The current bridge and its approaches are three miles long, but only 24 feet wide. The new one will be 40 feet wide.

When the bridge opened in the summer of 1931 the dedication ceremony was described as a tremendous spectacle that included a parade with floats from towns all across east Arkansas, an aerial circus, high dives from the bridge, boat and swimming races and a baseball game. Dozens of business and civic leaders crowded the podium.

The ferry across the White River at Clarendon had cost $5, which was considered very expensive. Three workers died during the building of the bridge. Workers earned 25 or 30 cents an hour, and construction of the bridge delayed the effects of the Great Depression in Clarendon and nearby areas.

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