Thursday, October 13, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas is joining a growing list of states seeking a waiver from the testing requirements in federal education standards known as the "No Child Left Behind" law.

No Child Left Behind is the main law that sets out the federal government's role in public education. A version of the law has been on the books since the 1960s, but it was a major overhaul enacted by Congress 10 years ago that has caused headaches for local and state education officials.

Educators in many western states, such as Utah and Montana, have been the most outspoken in their criticism of No Child Left Behind. However, it's possible to find state and local officials in every region of the country who are critical of the federal law.

At issue are the law's requirements that all students must perform at proficient levels on standardized tests by 2014. That is a reasonable goal for the vast majority of students, but it is extremely difficult for the bottom five to 10 percent. It also is a difficult goal to meet for schools with non-English speakers, students from poor families and students with disabilities.

The requirements and penalties in the law are being phased in, and schools that have not met the goals so far are labeled as failing. According to a recent report, almost a third of the nation's schools are branded as failing. In some states the percentage is much higher.

A fundamental issue raised by No Child Left Behind is how great of a role Washington, D.C. should have in determining education policy in local schools. The law has spurred many local schools to do more to raise academic achievement of minority students in reading and math.

On the other hand, No Child Left Behind has raised concerns that schools are now pressured to concentrate too much on preparing students for standardized tests, at the expense of teaching subjects that are not tested.

Drug Court Stopgap Funding

The state Health Department has released $393,000 to pay for drug court operations temporarily. Legislative supporters of the drug court program will seek a stable and permanent source of funding during the Fiscal Session that begins in February of 2012.

Drug offenders can avoid prison if they agree to the intensive supervision and testing required by drug courts. By avoiding prison they can keep their jobs and continue supporting their families and paying taxes.

Land Commissioner Accepts Cards

The state Land Commissioner now accepts credit and debit card payments for delinquent property taxes, but only from those who personally visit the office. The office has plans to expand its plans to include payments by telephone and over the Internet. Information is available at the Land Commissioner's web site at

History buffs can find fascinating images of early land records, including Spanish land grants and deeds of property to veterans of the War of 1812, under the "History and Archives" link on the Land Commissioner's web site.

It also has a catalogue of parcels available at public auctions throughout the state. Besides the catalogue, the Land Commissioner publishes legal notices in local newspapers. The parcels of land are available because they were forfeited for non-payment of real estate taxes.

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