2108 Legislative Wrap Up

On Monday (3/12/18), lawmakers officially wrapped up the 2018 Fiscal Legislative Session, returning to Little Rock to adjourn sine die. This session saw far more education-related proposals than any previous fiscal session. As always, AEA was at the Capitol representing our members and public education every day.

What education proposals were considered?

Voucher Expansion through 529 Plans 

The biggest education fight this session centered around HB1122. This bill is the appropriation bill for the State Treasurer’s Office. Late in the session, lawmakers added language to the bill that effectively creates a new voucher program via the Arkansas tax code.

Lawmakers added the program through a little-known process called “special language.” The Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) estimated that this new voucher program, which would expand the use of 529 savings plans to help fund private school tuition, would mean a $5.2 million loss to our state budget.

Supporters of this proposal needed 75 votes to pass the measure. On the first attempt, the bill only received 56 votes. On a second attempt the proposal received 74 votes. The measure lost more support leading up to the third (and final) vote in the last few days of the legislative session. Legislators were at an impasse.  The controversial language that had been added to create the voucher program was stripped from the bill. AEA strongly opposed this proposal and was the only organization to testify in opposition.  AEA members played a critical role in the defeat of this bill by reaching out to key lawmakers across Arkansas.

ALERT: A similar proposal will now be considered during a special session beginning Tuesday morning (3/13). During this session, such a proposal will only require a simple majority in the House and Senate, rather than the required three-fourths supporters failed to muster during the fiscal session.

Governor’s Letters:

1) Voucher Funding Increase

Governor Hutchinson, via a mechanism called a “Governor’s Letter,” successfully gained legislative approval to add public dollars to two education funding bills.

The first Governor’s Letter seeks legislative approval to add nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the deceptively named “Succeed Scholarship” voucher program. This program sends public funds to unaccountable private schools.

Even worse, the program primarily targets students on an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and requires parents or guardians to waive the child’s federal civil rights protections to participate. This proposal was added to SB37.

2) Charter Facility Funding Increase 

The second Governor’s letter would increase charter school facilities funding by $1.5 million dollars. The Governor’s support of these programs adds pressure to an already strained state budget by creating additional lanes of state expenditures. This additional spending was added to SB33.

These proposals erode the state’s ability to adequately resource our public schools as required by the Arkansas State Constitution.

Catastrophic Funding for Students with Special Needs

The Joint Budget Committee also defeated an attempt to increase funding for students with special needs. Three times, lawmakers voted down an amendment to SB33 by Rep. Michael John Gray that would begin to address the demonstrated need in the state’s catastrophic special education fund. This severely underfunded part of the budget helps school districts around Arkansas meet the needs of the most vulnerable students in our public schools. AEA supported this amendment. Voting against funding for this special education proposal was:

Sen. Scott Flippo, R, Bull Shoals
Sen. John Cooper, R, Jonesboro
Sen. Missy Irvin, R, Mountain View
Sen. Jane English, R, North LR
Sen. Lance Eads, R, Springdale
Sen. Jim Hendren, R, Gravette
Sen. Bart Hester, R, Cave Springs
Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R, Texarkana

Arkansas Works

In addition to these education-related proposals, funding for Arkansas’s Medicaid Expansion Program – also known as Arkansas Works – which has a significant impact on the state budget as a whole was approved after Trump Administration officials agreed to require program participants to work.

What’s Next?

The Governor has called a Special Legislative session to begin on Tuesday (3/13). Lawmakers will again take up the voucher proposal to expand utilization of 529 plans to incentivize spending on private schools. During this session, such a proposal would only require 51 of 100 votes to pass in the House and 18 out of 35 in the Senate.

New Legislative Leadership

The Senate has elected Sen. Jim Hendren, R of Gravette to be President Pro Tempore of the Senate replacing Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R, of Beebe.

The House has elected Rep. Matthew Shepard of El Dorado as the Speaker of the House replacing Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R, of Judsonia.

The House has elected Rep. Matthew Shepard, R, of El Dorado as the Speaker of the House replacing Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R, of Judsonia.



The Senate has elected Sen. Jim Hendren, R. of Gravette to be President Pro Tempore of the Senate replacing Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R, of Beebe.

ELECTIONS: Mark Your Calendars

March 1st was the last day for candidates to file to run for office in Arkansas (see the full list HERE). This means election season is in full swing.Many of the state legislative races will be decided in the primary election. This year, it will be on May 22nd. Judicial races will also appear on the May 22nd ballot along with some school board races, provided that the local school board elected to hold the election on this date instead of during the November 6 General Election.Monday, April 22nd is the deadline to register to vote and participate in this election.


Voters will be asked to select a Republican, Democratic, or nonpartisan ballot when they arrive at the polling place. Arkansas has open primaries which allow a voter to vote on a ballot of their choosing.

Voters must be registered to vote by April 23 to be eligible to vote in the May 22nd election.