With the start of the school year, I thought I’d do a quick bit of Internet research about education in Arkansas. While serving on the House Education Committee I have been exposed to new ways of looking at funding and curriculum requirements and teacher qualifications and so much more. I wondered if anything new and relevant had occurred that I might have missed recently.

I googled “education in Arkansas” and found the U.S. Government website for education, ed.gov/category/location/arkansas. The first line was about Arkansas receiving $5.3 million to turn around low-performing schools. The second link was to an announcement that Arkansas was to receive $5.7 million. My excitement quickly evaporated when I saw the site is not current and the two links were actually dated April 2012 and March 2012.

Do you think critically about the news you hear or read? Whether the article is fact or opinion? Do you trust your social media newsfeeds? Wouldn’t you think you could trust a government website?

Wikipedia reports that the phrase often attributed to President Reagan in his nuclear armament dealings with the Russians, “trust, but verify,” is actually a Russian proverb. It is one worth applying to most things we find in the media, and indeed, to most things we hear anywhere.

And as for learning more about current events regarding education in Arkansas, I should have more to report next week, as the Joint House and Senate Education Committee will meet twice this week, and I will be able to personally verify the information given and considered.

In the meantime, the House media staff recently provided verified information to consider as we become familiar with the new traffic patterns for morning and afternoon transportation of our school children.

During any given day in the school year, there are 350,000 children riding a bus on Arkansas roadways. Our state has a strong campaign designed to remind drivers that Flashing Red means Kids Ahead.

It is illegal to pass a stopped school bus whenever its red lights are flashing, as students are present. The law requires drivers to stop on 2 lane and 4 lane highways in both directions, even those with a middle lane. Drivers cannot attempt to pass in any direction until the school bus has finished receiving or discharging passengers and is in motion again.

And yet, Arkansans violate this law routinely. Back in April, Arkansas school bus drivers reported 884 instances of motorists illegally passing stopped school buses in one day. Twelve of those instances occurred on the right side of the bus, where students enter and leave the bus.

The penalties and punishment for anyone found guilty of illegally passing a stopped school bus were increased dramatically by Act 2128 of 2005, also known as Isaac’s Law. The legislation was named in honor of Isaac Brian, an elementary school student in the Bryant School District who was struck and killed when a driver illegally passed his school bus while students were exiting the vehicle. The legislature increased the fines in Isaac’s Law again this year with Act 166. Drivers can now face up to a $2,500 fine for a violation.

Isaac’s father, William Brian, spoke at the Capitol Rotunda last week, “I’m encouraging you to take your responsibility as a driver seriously. I’m asking you eliminate distractions and have a heightened sense of awareness anytime you see flashing red lights.”

Everyone has a responsibility to ensure students arrive to and from school safely. Remember: Flashing Red. Kids Ahead. To learn more about the campaign, visit flashingredkidsahead.org.

There is another new Arkansas campaign with resources available to educate kids and adults about which I’m excited to share. Ron Echols of Monticello has been expressing his concerns about the litter on our streets and public areas for some time to all that will listen and his concerns are compelling. He recently asked me about what might be available to get into the hands of our elementary teachers to encourage responsible citizenship. I verified that resources to help educate kids are available for the asking.

The website keeparkansasbeautiful.com has a wealth of information on what we can do to care for our state. Click on the “For Kids” tab to learn about Otto the River Otter, the campaign’s new mascot. You can even meet Otto in McGehee at Owlfest in October. Resources for teachers are available upon request.

The Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission is a division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. It is one of four state agencies that share proceeds from the Amendment 75 1/8-cent conservation Tax, which provides an annual budget of about $700,000.

There is so much to learn about our great state. If you have a question I can help you answer, or if you want to know more about something happening at the Capitol, please let me know. Remember the House website always has a calendar of events and you can also link to watch live streamed committee meetings online at arkansashouse.org

Thank you for the privilege and honor to serve as State Representative. Leave me a message at 870-460-0773, email me at leanne.burch@arkansashouse.org, or message me on Facebook @BurchforAR. I look forward to hearing from you.

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