State Rep. Vivian Flowers, now in her fifth term in the Arkansas House of Representatives, hosted a town hall meeting Thursday night at Pine Bluff High School to listen and learn.

Attorney Furonda Brasfield, National Urban League, Arkansas executive director Scott Hamilton, Bessie Lancelin, director of Clinical Service at Southeast Arkansas Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., and Arkansas Public Policy Panel executive director Bill Kopsky joined Flowers to discuss issues facing southeast Arkansas and answer questions.

Flowers said the most important issue facing southeast Arkansas, and the entire state for that matter, is education especially as public schools deal with the complicated LEARNS Act.

The LEARNS Act, which is currently in litigation and temporarily on hold, could be detrimental to public schools especially in the Delta. Many schools already are understaffed and teetering on fiscal distress. Flowers said that everyone who lives in underserved rural areas should be concerned what could happen in the next couple of years. She said she expects more schools to be shuttered or taken over by a private group similar to what is happening in the Marvell-Elaine School District.

Flowers did not support two recent tax initiatives, supported by Go Forward Pine Bluff, primarily because she said that she wanted to see a scholarship opportunity attached to it. Both taxes failed at the polls.

She said that Go Forward Pine Bluff modeled parts of itself from projects in El Dorado. She said El Dorado created The Promise scholarship at El Dorado High School that helps students with education and professional goals.

Flowers said that while El Dorado depended solely on Murphy Oil for its scholarships, Pine Bluff has plenty of businesses to help fund scholarship opportunities in the city and surrounding areas. She had hoped Go Forward Pine Bluff would launch a similar program.

The panel focused heavily on the prison pipeline concept which directly and indirectly pushes students out of school and on a pathway to prison.

Flowers voted against Governor Sarah Sanders “Protect Arkansas Act,” which ends parole eligibility for people convicted of certain crimes. The act, signed by Sanders into law in April, also grants nearly half a billion dollars for more prisons.

Flowers discussed with Deltaplex the importance of parole in some instances that can change lives positively.

In August voters in the Pine Bluff School District will vote on a unified, increased millage rate for construction of a new high school. The special election is Aug. 8.

The existing millage rates would increase to 47.7, representing a 6-mill increase in the old PBSD and 6.9-mill increase in the old Dollarway School District. Flowers told the audience that the tax means a house valued at $100,000, the owner would pay an extra $120 per year in property tax, or $10 per month.

The new school would be built on the current high school site. Flowers supports the millage because the school needs a modern 21st century for students to have access to the latest technology and an updated state-of-the-art learning environment to attract more students.