Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) will back legislation from lobbyists connected to Walmart that would open the door for private contractors to take over management of local school districts, the Arkansas Times reported.
The bill, HB 1733, was introduced by state Rep. Bruce Cozart (R), and was written by Walton Family Foundation lobbyists. Cozart is also chair of the state House Education Committee. The bill was sent to the committee for review on Friday, and needs 11 votes to advance to a vote on the floor.
According to the Times, the bill would establish an "achievement school district" that could include any school district found to be under "academic distress."
The state education commissioner would then have the ability to "directly operate or contract with one or more not-for-profit entities" to run the district for a 3-5 year period. Individual schools would also be eligible for transitioning to a privatized system, with the rest of that school's former district potentially responsible for paying for busing and food costs.
The Times also reported that the bill would turn teachers in any "achievement district" into "at-will" workers. Districts run under this model would not be required to have a school board or field licensed teachers.
A demonstration against the bill is scheduled to be held outside the state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon local time, and more than 200 Little Rock residents, as well as other state legislators, attended a rally on Monday urging them to call on the committee's 10 Democratic members to vote the bill down. The committee also has 10 Republican members, including Cozart.
"They've decided they know what's best for us," state Sen. Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D) said. "This is about a Walton and Company takeover of public education."
The bill would directly impact the Little Rock school district first if passed. Education Dive reported in January that the state Board of Education voted 5-4 to take over the district after determining that 6 of its 48 schools were failing.