KATV-TV in Little Rock, Ark.:
Prior to last year, Arkansas schools were required to offer journalism classes as an elective. But many lawmakers voted to remove it, calling it a mandate.
State Rep. Julie Mayberry, R-Hensley, told KATV she was appalled when lawmakers did away with the requirement. That prompted her to file House Bill 1015 this legislative session.
Under Mayberry’s proposed legislation, all Arkansas public schools would be required to offer journalism as an elective. It’s a requirement that she said dates back to 1984.
“Journalism is essential to our American government,” she said. “We have three branches of government so that we have a watch on each department. But who keeps an eye on them? The journalist.”
Mayberry said journalism classes aren’t just about training future journalists but about teaching future generations how to stay informed.
“People are sharing information and not understanding where the source is,” she said. “They’re just trying to get something out there really quickly. And in journalism school we are taught make sure you get the story right, get your facts straight first and then present the story. And that’s not what’s happening right now, so it’s something everybody can learn from.”
Lawmakers against bringing back this requirement said it puts public schools in a difficult position.
“Journalism is a great class,” said state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado. “I think it’s a great profession. But mandating by the state that every single school teaches it puts a financial strain and other strain on schools. I grew up in a very rural school. My graduating class was 60 people and we barely had enough teachers for Spanish and other kind of basic courses.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement that he opposes the bill on similar grounds.
“I appreciate Rep. Mayberry’s efforts to include journalism in all of our schools, but I believe the decision to do so is best left to local school districts,” he said. “All Arkansas high schools have the option to offer a journalism course, and in fact, the vast majority already do. Journalism is an important area of study, and high school is the perfect place for students to learn the fundamentals of gathering news and checking facts. However, with 38 courses already mandated in every Arkansas public school, another mandate would be burdensome and expensive for many districts—especially those with limited resources.“