During the record breaking 108-day convening of the 93rd General Assembly in Arkansas, nearly 1,000 bills went on to become law. Several of them, including the ones highlighted below, were favorable to Excel by Eight’s mission to improve Arkansas families’ access to a grid of resources that can improve health and education outcomes for children.
Expanded Home Visiting
Act 530 establishes three ARHomes for “at-risk moms and their babies,” mental health and substance use counseling in rural areas, and young adults “formerly in foster care, formerly incarcerated or in Division of Youth Services custody, and veterans.” Birthing hospitals throughout the state can choose to become a “Maternal Life360 HOME” offering evidence-based home visitation services for women with high-risk pregnancies. “Maternal Life360 HOMEs” will provide an evidence-based home visitation program from pregnancy through the child’s first 24 months with potential to reach more than 5,000 eligible women.
Healthy Foods for Children and Families
According to a recent Feeding America report, 23 percent of Arkansas children are considered food insecure. Many of these children receive breakfast and lunch at school. Act 141 allows schools to distribute excess food to students to be eaten at school or home.
Act 775 requires all newly constructed public schools and those currently undergoing total renovations to install water bottle filling stations. These stations will encourage proper hydration habits and prevent the unnecessary consumption of sugary drinks with empty calories. In 2020, the State of Childhood Obesity reported 20% of children aged 10-17 were considered obese.
Increasing Physical Activity at School
The Healthy Active Arkansas Schools Act will require schools to include the physical environment, physical activity and nutrition as part of their health and wellness priorities.
Increased Funding, Community Schools and Reading Instruction
The majority of Arkansas school districts funding comes from a per pupil expenditure, referred to as foundation funding. Act 614 raises the funding from $6,899 to $7,182 per student. Enhanced Student Achievement Funding (formerly National School Lunch Act or NSLA funding) increased based on the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch served by the district.
Two school districts in our state, Batesville School District and Little Rock School District, are implementing community school models. Legislators showed their support of community schools with Act 744. The Community Schools Act encourages districts to consider community schools and gives the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) a role in supporting them.
Students reading on grade level by the end of third grade is a key indicator of future success. Making sure the estimated one in five students with dyslexia receive appropriate instruction and intervention are critical to those students reading on grade level. Act 606 is a follow up to the 2019 Right to Read Act, which requires use of curricula, in accordance with the science of reading. Act 606 allows the ADE to withhold foundation funding from a school district not complying with the Right to Read Act. To further support students with dyslexia, Act 1016 creates a network of therapists to provide specialized dyslexia instruction. This network will be developed by the ADE and provide support and materials to districts to support students with reading or written language disabilities.
With a growing population of students with English as a second language, Act 663 will allow schools to adopt bilingual or dual immersion programs. These programs can build on a student’s primary language to build and expand their English language skills. In addition, Act 513 allows Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients to obtain teacher’s licenses.
Improving Reproductive Health
Screening pregnant women for Hepatitis C will be required with Act 548. As the most common blood-borne infection, Hepatitis C can be passed on to infants during childbirth. Treatment of children is 95% effective, but untreated infants can develop cirrhosis or scarring of the liver.
Act 408 allows pharmacists to prescribe oral contraceptives. For some women, pharmacists are easier to access and offer more hours than a traditional physicians office.
This year’s legislative session resulted in some increased access to resources that will improve health and education outcomes for children in Arkansas. But there is still much work to be done. If you’re interested in helping advocate for children and families in Arkansas please take a look at our detailed policy agenda and sign up for our newsletter to keep up with our ongoing efforts.