LITTLE ROCK — A Fort Smith lawmaker said Wednesday he will try again next year to require the state Department of Education to adopt curriculum standards for a Bible course in public schools.
Rep. Denny Altes, a Republican, said the bill he has prefiled for the legislative session that convenes in January is identical to one he filed during the 2011 session. That measure was approved by the House but was rejected by the Senate Education Committee.
"This bill will just codify what we are presently doing," Altes said, adding he has received calls from several school superintendents since 2011 urging him to run the bill again.
Altes said he thinks his proposal will do better this time because Republicans gained control of the House and Senate in the November general election.
"I’ve heard that (Senate) education is going to be real friendly to us. It looks like a lot better scenario than last time," he said.
"It’s a good curriculum, it’s a good study," Altes said. "It doesn’t hurt anybody. We encourage prisoners to read the Bible but school students are not encouraged to."
House Bill 1017 would direct the Department of Education to craft a curriculum for a "nonsectarian, nonreligious academic study of the Bible and its influence on literature, art, music, culture, and politics."
Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell was out of the office Wednesday afternoon, but Phyllis Stewart, his chief of staff, said "a handful" of school districts offer a Bible course.
"I can tell you the department does not provide a course for Bible," she said. "The districts submit courses for approval and what we do is go through and make sure it’s aligned and it’s usually taught as a history or literature course."
During the 2011 legislative session, education officials said the department had approved curriculum for the Bible to be taught in the Little Rock and Cabot school districts.
Altes said Wednesday that a group called the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools has developed a curriculum for teaching such a course and the state Education Department could use it as a starting point.