Senate Committee Approves Bill Aimed at Certifying DACA Teachers

Advocates say the legislation could impact immigrants from several countries.

DACA Teachers Education Committee
Sen. Joyce Elliott addresses fellow members of the Education Senate Committee Mar. 22, 2021.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA recipients who want to pursue a teaching career in Arkansas are one step closer to making that dream come true. The Senate Education Committee yesterday advanced House Bill 1594, which is sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, a Republican from Horatio.

HB 1594 is similar to legislation passed in 2019 that allows the state to grant nursing licenses to DACA students. Some Arkansas legislators have been drafting bills to support DACA recipients for several years. For example, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, started working on legislation for DACA recipients in 2003. Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, noted her colleague’s work and recalled Elliott presenting legislation in committee about 10 years ago. 

“I remember her bringing it to this Senate committee and it being voted down. So this state has come a long way since then, but I would be remiss in her last term in office if I did not thank her for doing that,” Chesterfield said. 

While several of the DACA recipients who have spoken in favor of the bill so far have focused on the impact it could have on the Hispanic community, committee members noted it could affect other minority populations in the state as well. 

“I think we can widen our lens about this,” Elliott said. “What you’re doing is helpful to students from so many countries and they’re not all [from] Latin and South America or people who speak Spanish, but I think people are not quite open to understanding, for example, how many of these kids came from the African continent.” 

Four members of the public spoke for HB 1594, no one spoke against it. The bill passed on a voice vote and now heads to the full Senate.

The education committee also considered HB 1451, legislation that would allow an Arkansas public school district to adopt a bilingual program or dual immersion program. Senators approved the measure; however, sponsor Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, asked for the vote to be expunged so she could make an amendment and keep the bill in the committee. Senators approved her request. 

The Senate Education Committee does not meet today and the Arkansas Legislature is on break tomorrow through Friday. The earliest HB 1451 could be presented to the committee again would be next week.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.