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Governor unveils education reform package. (In Full View).

Gov. Mike Huckabee last week unveiled a blueprint" for education reform that, among other things, would establish a merit-pay system for teachers, standardize curricula across the state, increase high school graduation requirements, expand art instruction and get the state's four-year colleges out of the remedial education business.

Huckabee outlined his "Next Step" initiative, in a speech to the Downtown Little Rock Rotary Club, saying it was time to focus on the product of education rather than the process.

Stacy Pittman, co-chair of the Arkansas Blue Ribbon Commission on Public Education and a member of the Rotary Club, said after the event was feeling "so positive" about the governor's priorities.

Six of the governor's eight reform categories corresponded closely with the recommendations the commission will release July 1, she said. The other two -- expanding the charter school law and expanding instruction of the arts, including the establishment of a residential arts high school -- have not been discussed by the commission, she said.

"I think the devil is' in the details," Pittman said.

The commission was established by the Legislature following a chancery court ruling that the state's education system is inadequate and inequitable to the point of being unconstitutional.

While a subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission has estimated the cost of fixing the state's education system at $856 million a year, Huckabee did not address the cost of his proposed reforms. After his speech, he told reporters that he wanted the opportunity to sell the plan on its features before discussing the price tag.

Parts of the Plan

Here are the governor's reform categories and some of their highlights:

* Professional staff accountability and compensation, including merit pay for teachers; additional pay for teachers in subjects where there is a shortage and teachers in academically distressed schools; revisions to the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act; and increased accountability for the retention and graduation of students who go on to college.

The governor also proposed requiring college students to repay state scholarships if they don't graduate within six years.

* Academic standards, curriculum and teaching methods, including testing students each spring to measure academic growth from year to year; increasing course requirements for high school graduation; establishing higher enrollment standards for four-year colleges; and offering remedial courses through two-year colleges only.

* Communicating results to all stakeholders by expanding the Arkansas school Report Card to include performance data for individual students, individual teachers and individual grade levels. The governor also proposed improved communication of high school graduation and college entrance requirements.

* Broaden the state charter school law to increase the number of open-enrollment charter schools and to develop funding for charter school facilities.

* Financial reporting reforms that would, standardize accounting for school districts, including minimum requirements on the percentage of district funds that must be used for classroom instruction.

* Improved preschool and health care access for children.

* Inclusion and expansion of broad-based opportunities for students in the arts, including a residential arts high school in Hot Springs, expanded standards for music instruction and establishment of standards to give all students access to visual arts and theater.

* Develop partnerships among business, industry, post-secondary schools, the state Department of Workforce Education and public schools. The governor proposed making the Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) arid Cisco programs available in all schools.
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Comment:Governor unveils education reform package. (In Full View).(Brief Article)
Author:Moritz, Gwen
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jan 14, 2002
Words:544
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