’21 Legislature Set to Meet Amid COVID Outbreak
The Arkansas General Assembly is set to convene a general legislative session on January 11, 2021. The state still continues to grapple with the spread of the coronavirus which means that this legislative session will be different than ever before.
State budget hearings will begin in October ahead of the session, the House and Senate Education Committee serving as the Educational Adequacy Committee will submit its recommendations on how to resource public schools for the next two years by November 1st. Lawmakers may also begin prefiling bills as early as November 16th.
As always, AEA will be closely monitoring any legislation that impacts the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System after successfully fending off a multi-pronged attack on public retirement systems in the 2019 legislative session. Lawmakers have until January 25th to file any retirement related bills.
Rep. Matthew Shepherd- (R) El Dorado, has once again been elected by his peers to serve as Speaker of the House and Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R) Texarkana has been newly elected to serve as President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
Unlike many states that have seen a significant Arkansas is in a fairly strong financial position ahead of the next session. The Department of Finance and Administration has reported state revenues well above projections. This is critical as we work to ensure that our schools are properly funded, and that health and retirement benefits are protected.
In addition, we anticipate multi-faceted attempts to divert public funds for private schools through various unaccountable voucher schemes or related “pandemic pods.” Although AEA has been widely successful in defeating these attacks, we anticipate a stronger, renewed attempt to expand on these efforts.
Over the summer, Arkansas saw millions of dollars come into the state as part of the CARES Act approved by Congress including $20 million that was allocated for additional paid leave for public school employees. Current guidelines require the state to spend its share of CARES Act funds by December 31. However, Congress is expected to approve an additional rescue package at the which will likely have a significant impact on the state as well. The details of that plan and it’s potential impact on the state and specifically on public education remains to be seen.
AEA is planning our annual Legislative Conference for Saturday, January 23 and all members are invited to attend. We are also tentatively planning to host our AEA Lobby Week March 22-26 which aligns with Spring Break. We invite all AEA members to join AEA leadership and staff to attend committee meetings and meet with lawmakers about public education issues. Please note that plans are still being finalized for how the public will be able to safely engage in this legislative session, so modifications to Lobby Week will likely be necessary.