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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' governor says he has signed legislation expanding the locations where concealed handguns are allowed in the state to include colleges, some bars, government buildings and even the state Capitol.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two northern Arkansas school boards have temporarily ceased prayer before meetings.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/2n3xYoE) reports Springdale and Harrison boards are researching the legality of the public prayers after receiving a letter from The Freedom From Religion Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin. The foundation monitors matters regarding separation of church and state.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would create a school voucher pilot program for Shelby County has passed in a House committee following rancorous debate.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Harry Brooks, a Republican from Knoxville, would allow public school children to use taxpayer money to go to private schools.

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET Tuesday

With the stroke of a pen on Tuesday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson separated a holiday that has for decades celebrated both Martin Luther King Jr. and Gen. Robert E. Lee in the state.

Under the bill that Hutchinson signed into law, King now has the third Monday of January entirely to himself, as dictated by federal law; Lee will now be commemorated in a state holiday on the second Saturday of October.

A bill that expands where trained Arkansans can bring concealed firearms is now heading to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk after the Legislature gave its final approval on Wednesday.

JONESBORO — Isaac White, a student at Arkansas State University, has been selected as a recipient of a Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) for 2017. He is the first online Master of Public Administration (MPA) student at Arkansas State to receive this honor.

Talk Business & Politics

A heated debate that has been stewing in Northeast Arkansas for months spilled over into a House panel on Tuesday (Feb. 28) after lawmakers backed a plan to merge Crowley’s Ridge Technical Institute of Forrest City into its next door neighbor, East Arkansas Community College (EACC).

Schools in Arkansas get $6,600 for every student. So when kids leave a public school, the money leaves too. The state chips in temporarily to cover the financial loss, but a pair of lawmakers want to end that.

A bill requiring public universities to allow faculty, staff and students 25 years or older to carry concealed firearms on campuses may be coming up for a vote Monday afternoon in the Arkansas Senate. HB1249 is on the calendar after being amended in recent weeks to include provisions requiring additional training and extending concealed carry privileges to some students.

Brandon Tabor, KASU News

Arkansas State University System is having a board meeting Friday in Mountain Home.  Watch the board meeting to see what develops.

Read along with the agenda.

Public school districts in Arkansas regularly buy and sell property, pending approval of local education boards, of course. But today, the Arkansas Senate approved a bill that would take some of that control away.

Senate Bill 308 would allow charter schools the right to purchase or lease unused public school buildings, a seemingly small concession that nonetheless raises big questions about local versus state control of schools and inspired a heated back and forth between senators this week.

Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) said Tuesday that some public school districts let buildings sit empty, a misfortune he equated to murdering a building.

“We have had schools literally rot to the ground rather than let someone use them for educational purposes. That should never happen.”

Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) had a lot of questions for Clark. She told a Senate Education Committee Tuesday that the bill is heavy handed, and she said it takes local control from public districts.

Under a bill that cleared the Senate Education Committee Tuesday on a voice vote, all private schools would be given public funds to take special needs kids if parents so choose, even if they haven’t achieved what’s called “accreditation.”

The Arkansas Department of Education says it can take four years to get that status. State Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D- Little Rock) says accreditation is evidence that the schools are doing a good job.

“I don’t think you do it by allowing kids to be put some place for four years that’s not accredited and may never be accredited.”

AState Carl R. Reng Center Student Union
Arkansas State University Jonesboro Website (astate.edu)

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas State University has suspended all fraternity and sorority social events until April 1 after a student was accused of raping a woman at a fraternity party.

The letter was sent out Tuesday by the university's Greek Life officials. The suspension includes "all registered social events, drop-ins, formals, semi-formals, date nights" or any other social events.

The university says it will host mandatory "risk-reduction" training sessions in March for fraternity and sorority members.

Arkansas State University

In this interview, KASU's News Director Johnathan Reaves talks with Dr. Adam Long with the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in Piggot.  Dr. Long talks about the center and the upcoming spring trip to Cuba.  Several openings are still available for the trip.  Learn more by listening to the entire interview.    

A bill to open-up membership in the public charter school authorizing panel to anyone in the public – without requirement – sailed through the Arkansas Senate on Monday. Currently the panel that makes recommendations on whether charter schools should open, close, or expand is made up of Department of Education employees.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren said establishing criteria for holding the posts is a burden on the state.

Another concern is being raised about legislation that would require public universities and colleges in Arkansas to allow licensed faculty and staff to carry concealed handguns on campus.

John Pijanowski, chair of the campus faculty senate at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, believes the campus carry bill could be in conflict with existing laws regarding guns in churches.

Arkansas State University

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas State University officials are hoping to create a council to address the campus climate.

The national Campus Climate Network Group defines campus climate as behaviors in a work or learning environment "ranging from subtle to cumulative to dramatic" that can influence whether someone feels safe, valued and respected.

A bill that would defund sanctuary campuses – of which Arkansas has none – failed Tuesday in a legislative committee. In a voice vote, members shot down the bill by state Representative Brandt Smith of Jonesboro. Smith feared “rogue professors” would force Arkansas colleges to become safe havens for undocumented immigrants trying to escape federal immigration laws.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed into law a bill that links college and university funding to factors such as the number of students who complete their degrees.

Hutchinson on Wednesday signed the bill that requires the state to adopt a "performance-based" model for funding higher education rather than basing the money on enrollment.

Hutchinson has said he'll call for increasing higher education funding by $10 million in 2018 if the plan was approved.

Update:

A bill that would defund Arkansas universities, were they to shelter undocumented immigrant students from federal law enforcement in the course of a criminal investigation, failed on a voice vote before the House Education Committee Tuesday morning.

A story about mortgages and incomes in northwest Arkansas was weeks in the making. We talk to some of the reporters, students at the University of Arkansas, about the process and what they discovered.

MUSIC: "Groundhog Day" The Rifles

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The Arkansas House of Representatives has voted in favor of a bill requiring public colleges and universities in Arkansas to allow firearms on their campuses.

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The Arkansas Department of Education is recommending that the Blytheville School District no longer be classified as being “in academic distress.”

That classification is given to individual schools and school districts when over a three year period 49% of their students score at or below proficiency in math and reading.  Proficiency is measured by state mandated testing.

Recent high school graduates in Tennessee are already allowed to attend community college at no cost. Now Gov. Bill Haslam is looking to expand the year-old program to provide free community college educations to adults, as well.

Haslam, a Republican who has been in office since 2011, made his pitch at Monday night's State of the State address. Afterward, he tweeted, "Let's be the Tennessee we can be."

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