WEST MEMPHIS, Ark. — One Arkansas lawmaker wants to get more students reading by putting money on the line—specifically, their lunch money.
Rep. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) proposed a bill that would cut lunch funding in schools that struggle with reading, and he is working to get others to support the idea.
Clark's proposed bill, if passed, would reduce a district’s “national school lunch funding” if they’re struggling in the reading department over a period of time.
"I don't understand, and hopefully that bill won't get passed in Arkansas," Laquita Chalmers, a parent in West Memphis, said.
Chalmers has four children, and one has recently had some trouble reading. Even though she knows what Clark is aiming to help fix, she doesn't understand how cutting lunch funds could help literacy struggles in the state.
"I don't see any connection in that," she said.
The National School Lunch program pours into schools and is different than the National School Lunch Act program, which provides free and low-cost lunch to students. Still, the parents we talked to said it's a stretch to touch lunch funding at all.
"This is most definitely not the option," Marilyn Canady, a grandmother to five, said.
She understands the bill is supposed to act as an incentive to push those schools to improve, but she still doesn't agree with how it could impact students.
"That's not right," Canady said. "It’s just not fair."
She wants state leaders to rethink it and maybe consider another way to get schools fired up about reading.
Clark told KTHV in Arkansas that the bill does not punish a district if it is stuck at a certain level, only if it decreases.
Late Wednesday afternoon Clark explained the reasoning behind the proposed bill:
I am not new to controversy. You don’t get anything important done without confrontation and taking a few knocks. Seeing that Arkansas children can read is worth a few bruises. When we were at 32 percent reading proficiency I was told my bills were too controversial and we couldn’t do any better than we were. Now we are at 41 percent so I am thankful I didn’t listen. But that still means that almost 60 percent of our kids are graduating and can’t do the most basic thing we send them to school for well: Read. My bill would require that a school district improve their reading proficiency by .0001 every 2 years. In most businesses I would be laughed at for suggesting such a small goal. But sadly many educators act like I have asked them to storm the beaches at Normandy. Improve .0001 every 2 years. Basically, the standard is just don’t go backwards.
It appears I have much more faith in our schools than many of our educators do.