Division of Elementary and Secondary Education

Through the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019 (Act 910), the Arkansas Department of Education (originally established by Act 169 of 1931 as the State Department of Education) was renamed the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education and absorbed alongside a number of other education-related agencies into the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE), a new cabinet-level department.

The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education  is administered by the State Board of Education and oversees the 244 public school districts in the state. The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education assists schools in developing curriculum, accredits schools, approves textbooks used in state public schools, licenses teachers, provides continuing education programs, and much more. In general, the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education is responsible for all public schools in Arkansas from kindergarten to the twelfth grade, including special education programs, gifted and talented programs, and public charter schools.

The entity now known as the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education was created by Act 169 of 1931 (as amended by Act 127 of 1941) as the State Department of Education, with the director being appointed by the State Board of Education. Act 38 of 1971, which reorganized several sectors of state government, restyled the State Department of Education as the Department of Education and transferred the power to appoint the director from the board to the governor. This act also transferred to the agency control over the Educational Television Commission (which oversees the Arkansas Educational Television Network, later made its own agency, though still partnering with ADE), the State Library Commission, the Arkansas School for the Blind, and the Arkansas School for the Deaf; likewise, the responsibilities relating to rehabilitation services, which had been overseen by the State Board of Vocational Education, were transferred to what became the Arkansas Department of Human Services (ADHS) and the Arkansas Department of Career and Technical Education (ADCTE). Vocational education fell under the purview of the ADE since its inception; Act 64 of 1981 explicitly divided the department into the General Education and Vocational and Technical Education divisions, and Act 297 of 1995 mandated that the State Board of Education and the State Board of Vocational Education be composed of the same twelve individuals. However, Act 803 of 1997 abolished the State Board of Vocational Education, creating in its place the State Board of Workforce Education and Career Opportunities as well as the Arkansas Department of Workforce Education (ADWE), which assumed responsibility for vocational and technical education in the state. ADWE became the Arkansas Department of Career Education in 2009 (Act 787), and then the Division of Career and Technical Education in 2019 (Act 910) when it was reorganized under the larger umbrella of the ADE. Act 885 of 1999 changed the State Board of Education to a nine-member board composed of two members from each of the state’s four congressional districts and one selected at large.

As of 2019, the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education is composed of five divisions: Division of Fiscal and Administrative Services, Division of Educator Effectiveness, Division of Learning Services, Division of Public School Accountability, and Division of Research and Technology. In 1999, the agency established a Home School Office to aid home-school parents in meeting the requirements of the pertinent laws and regulations. The Division of Elementary and Secondary Education also oversees public charter schools, granting charters for up to five years with the option to renew, as well as fifteen educational service cooperatives, which provide technical support and development opportunities to schools in their region, as well as five educational cooperatives throughout the state to aid in providing services to migrant families.

At one time, requirements to lead the agency included a teacher’s certificate, a master’s degree, and at least ten years of teaching and administrative experience, but these qualifications were eliminated by the Arkansas General Assembly in March 2015 in order that Governor Asa Hutchinson might appoint Johnny Key, a former state representative, to the position of commissioner.

For additional information:
Division of Elementary and Secondary Education. http://dese.ade.arkansas.gov/ (accessed November 13, 2019).

Harwood, Bill, and Grace Hardwood. School Days: Contemporary Views on Arkansas Public Education. Little Rock: Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, 1978.

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Last Updated: 11/13/2019

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