A few weeks ago, Arkansas State Rep. Jim Wooten (R-Beebe) filed HB1205. We flagged it and graded it as an F on our bill tracker.
The bill would require schools that accept “state funding” to provide transportation for students who live within 35 miles of a school they attend. The conventional wisdom around the state capitol suggests this was Wooten’s attempt to demonstrate his displeasure with the prospect of educational freedom and make it more difficult for Arkansas families to participate in the forthcoming school choice program.
(Ironically, based on the bill language, I’m not even sure it would have the intended effect because it does not clearly define “state funding” and it’s unclear at best if school choice dollars would be subject to this new, unserious requirement.)
Here’s the problem: public schools in Arkansas are not currently required to provide transportation. Rep. Wooten’s bill would change this.
Surely Rep. Wooten knew this–his bill is less than a page long and it quite clearly defines “school” as including public school districts. Perhaps he included the public schools for legal reasons, out of concern that a court might invalidate a statute that unfairly singled out private institutions?
Nonetheless, he filed the bill as-is and even had it on the House Education committee agenda for a hearing this morning.
But there’s another problem: requiring schools to provide transportation–especially public schools–would be very expensive.
In fact, according to the Department of Education, Rep. Wooten’s bill would cost state taxpayers more than $315 million per year. That’s quite a price tag just to make a point.
There's no reason to believe HB1205 will ever make it out of the Republican-dominated House Ed committee; they wisely passed over it today.
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be exposed as the unserious proposal that it is.
Cost aside, a mandate of this sort on non-public schools is inappropriate and uncalled for. State government has no business meddling in the affairs of private schools, especially after decades of presiding over failure after failure in the public school system.
Perhaps instead of wasting time on unserious proposals like this one, Rep. Wooten could channel his energy into addressing systemic problems in the school system that state government is actually responsible for.
We might suggest starting with our reading crisis, which has left 2 out of 3 Arkansas kids unable to read at grade level and wholly unprepared for the workforce.
That, unlike HB1205, would be a serious undertaking.