University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

And Now, For Some Good News

In The View from the OEP on April 1, 2015 at 12:03 pm

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In the midst of all of the education-related controversy (and hyperbole) in early March about HB 1733, HB 1377, and PARCC testing (HB 1241: The Fate of PARCC in Arkansas and Testing in Progress: Please Do Not Disturb!), some very good news for Arkansas was quietly shared in the March 12th edition of the Washington Post. The Post reporter dug into some tables generated by the National Center for Education Statistics and came up with the unhappy conclusion that “In 23 states, richer school districts get more local funding than poorer districts”.

In Arkansas, however, the poorest students receive MORE dollars per pupil than do students of our state’s most affluent districts.  This is true for either type of per pupil expenditure (just state and local funding, or state, local and federal funding combined). To learn more about the actual data, here is a link to one of the key spreadsheets documenting our state’s success at improving funding equity for low-income students.

What this table highlights is that, in Arkansas in 2011-12, the current expenditures per pupil for ALL students was $9,215 (cell C9 of worksheet).  However, specifically for students in high-poverty districts in Arkansas, the current expenditures per pupil was $9,737.  This funding level exceeds the funding allocated to students in the least-poverty-stricken districts by more than 11%.  This funding disparity, in favor of the state’s poorest students, places Arkansas well above the national average and in a better position than 30 other states!

If you have followed OEP reports in the past, you may know that we’ve written about school funding equity in the past several times.  Here are some of our reports:

School funding equity is particularly important in Arkansas because of the longstanding and important Lake View school funding lawsuit.  In our analyses of funding equity seven long years ago, after several years of funding under the new school finance model, we wrote:

“Arkansas policymakers have achieved a great deal over the past few years, increasing overall funding substantially statewide, particularly in districts with high percentages of disadvantaged students… Moreover, policymakers have enacted policies to enhance the equity of our system through dramatic funding increases to small school districts, districts serving our most disadvantaged students, districts serving high percentages of minority students, and districts whose students are struggling academically… Arkansas lawmakers have spent the last several years increasing the resources allocated to K-12 education, eliminating gaps in resources between rich and poor students.”

In that context, the results presented recently by the National Center for Education Statistics provide further evidence that our new state funding formula has succeeded not only in equalizing spending between rich and poor, but actually in allocating additional resources toward our state’s poorest students.  This is GREAT NEWS!

Unfortunately, the news is not all good.  As we noted in our study of achievement gaps just this past year, stubborn achievement gaps persist between our state’s affluent and economically disadvantaged students.   We have made great headway in equalizing resources; now our educational leaders need to redouble their efforts to devise innovative strategies to improve outcomes for the students we have been under-serving for years.

News From The Capitol: March 30, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 30, 2015 at 1:21 pm

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The House and Senate education committees met this morning in a final push to move bills out of committee for consideration by the their respective bodies before the legislature’s Good Friday break. Below is a summary of those bills related to K-12 education policy.

House Committee on Education

Academic Distress Exemption
Senate Bill 858 would allow the state education board to exempt from the academic distress classification those schools that exist to serve at-risk students. The bill passed.

Charter School Facilities
Sen. Alan Clark presented SB847 to establish a reclamation process through the Academic Facilities Distress Program so that open enrollment public charter schools could access unused school buildings on the brink of decline. Representatives of AAEA and ASBA oppose the bill, citing too much authority given to the Director of the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation and the lack of mechanisms for local school board input and appeals. The bill failed. (The bill came up again in an afternoon meeting of the House education committee and failed a second time.)

Civics Competency
Senate Bill 878 to require that all students pass the US citizenship civics test as a condition of high school graduation was presented for a second hearing and failed again.

Senate Committee on Education

Kindergarten Early Admission
Rep. Jana Della Rosa presented HB1539 to allow a parent whose child’s fifth birthday occurs between August 1 and September 1 to petition for the child’s early admission to kindergarten. The bill provided that schools must have space available at the end of the first week of school for an early admission request to be granted. Della Rosa contended that the lack of flexibility in current policy is unfair to those children who are ready for kindergarten at this age, especially since the state allows the transfer to kindergarten of similarly situated children from other states. A spokesperson for AAEA opposed the bill, since schools would be required to admit the child if space is available. The bill failed for lack of a second to the Do Pass motion.

Lottery Scholarship
Sen. Jimmy Hickey presented HB1779 to allow lottery scholarship recipients who enter college with 27 hours or more of concurrent credit to receive the scholarship amount awarded to sophomores. The bill provides that the regulation would take effect in the 2016-17 school year but students entering college in 2015-16 may contact the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to request consideration if the bill becomes law. The bill passed.

Resource Officer Jurisdiction
Sen. Blake Johnson presented HB1583 to broaden the jurisdiction in which school resource officers (SRO) may issue citations or make arrests. Current law limits SROs’ authority when traveling with a school group and any problems must be handled by a nearby law enforcement agency. When a spokesperson for Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) opposed the bill because of concerns that SROs’ misuse of authority sends children to the juvenile court system, committee members pointed out that the bill also allows the officers to cite or arrest adults. The bill passed without opposition.

News From The Capitol: March 27, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 27, 2015 at 6:37 pm

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The Senate Committee on Education met this afternoon and discussed several bills with implications for K-12. The most vigorous discussions related to bills on national school lunch state categorical funding and teaching American History.

NSL State Funding
Sen. Joyce Elliott presented SB851 that would narrow the list of uses for NSL state funds. Elliott acknowledged that her intent was not to ask the committee to vote on a specific list today but to put education stakeholders on notice to begin looking for replacement funds. She said that two adequacy studies could not determine the impact that NSL funds are having on closing the achievement gap for children from low-income families because the money is distributed across so many programs. A spokesperson for Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) concurred, saying the agency’s research into the effectiveness of the state’s $220 million investment has been inconclusive due to the breadth of spending. Elliott reminded committee members that OEP, Picus Odden, and the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) all have recommended that the legislature focus on the intent of the NSL funds to address the achievement gap by paring the list of allowable uses. Committee members agreed that difficult choices are necessary. Elliott pulled the bill and referred it for interim study.

History Lessons
Sen. Linda Collins-Smith presented SB1007 (amended) to provide more coverage of American history in social studies and history classes in grades 7-12. Collins-Smith expressed concern that students receive only limited exposure to important periods in history that shaped our nation. Some committee members agreed that more class time should be devoted to history, and Debbie Jones of ADE explained the arduous work of the curriculum committee in determining how best to cover the growing body of material. After much discussion, the bill passed.

These bills also passed in committee today: HB1623 to increase the minimum salary schedule for teachers, HB1991 to provide a duty-free, uninterrupted 30-minute lunch period for full time classified school employees, HB1552 to establish a private school option for students with disabilities who are not learning in public schools.

Both the House and Senate education committees meet on Monday, March 30, at 10 a.m.

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