LITTLE ROCK — A second school choice bill intended to remove race as a factor in student transfers was filed Monday.
House Bill 1181 by Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, also takes into account the numbers of students in districts who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.
The bill is a response to a federal judge’s ruling last year that race cannot be the only factor in determining whether to approve or deny transfer requests.
Under Hammer’s bill, a request to transfer from one district to an adjacent district would have to be denied if the transfer would cause the receiving district’s National School Lunch Program student count to increase from below 65 percent to 65 percent or higher, unless both districts approve.
A transfer request also would have to be denied if the district from which a student wished to transfer would see its NSLP student count decrease from above 65 percent to 65 percent or lower or increase from below 75 percent to 75 percent or higher, unless both districts approve.
If a transfer is supported by the district from which a student wants to transfer but is denied by the district to which the student wants to transfer, the student could appeal the rejection to the state Board of Education.
Transfers that would conflict with a desegregation court order would not be allowed.
Hammer said a district’s NSLP funding increases if its NSLP student count reaches 70 percent and decreases if it drops below 70 percent. He said his bill seeks to create a “warning system” to alert school officials when the threshold is close to being reached.
“We don’t want a school district to wake up and find that they’ve dropped below that because kids have school-choiced out,” he said.
Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, has filed a bill that would amend the school choice law to remove race as an element but includes no mention of the National School Lunch Program. Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, has filed a bill that would allow a district to seek an exemption to the school choice law if it is concerned about a transfer interfering with desegregation. Hammer said he has been focused on drafting his bill and has not studied other bills on the issue.
Key said Monday he had not seen Hammer’s bill, but he knew Hammer had been working on one.
“I expected there might be some other ideas, which is fine. We’ll sort them all out,” Key said.