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Issues the Ledge Might Tackle — Charter School Facilities

In The View from the OEP on October 22, 2014 at 2:19 pm


capital picOver the next couple of months in the OEP Blog space, we will discuss topics that we think may be the focus of legislative activity in the upcoming 2015 general session.  If there are topics you think we should be considering, please let us know!

In this week’s post, we consider the always-controversial topic of charter schools. And the topic only gets more heated when money is thrown into the mix! We have discussed funding and charters a few times in the OEP cyber space (see our past policy briefs from January 2014 and May 2012).  In short, in each of these analyses, we found that, on average, charter schools in Arkansas have access to lower levels of total revenue per pupil than do traditional public schools; the difference is approximately 20%.  The greatest portion of this gap is due to charter schools’ relative lack of access to facilities funding used to build, acquire, renovate, or maintain buildings and equipment. As charter school leaders continue to seek funds for adequate facilities, this funding disparity is likely to foster some spirited legislative discussion on how the state should support facilities for students in public charter schools in Arkansas.

As a result, the OEP today releases our newest policy brief on the topic of Charter School Facilities Funding.  The purpose of this brief, given that our state’s lawmakers may well be seeking strategies to support charter school facilities, is to describe what sources of facilities funding are currently available to Arkansas’s open-enrollment charter schools (which we will refer to as “charter schools” here), and highlight a few options that other states are using.

Our policy brief goes more into the nitty-gritty specifics, but we wanted to highlight a few of the key issues here. There are two main reasons charter schools are at a disadvantage relative to TPS when it comes to facilities funding: charters are unable to collect funds from local property taxes (because open enrollment charters are attached to no specific locality!), and charters are unable to access the state’s facilities funds. Currently, TPS districts in Arkansas can fund capital projects with assistance from the Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation (DPSAFT). Charter schools in Arkansas are currently not eligible for this funding. Through the DPSAFT’s Partnership Program, which funds new construction and major renovations, the state provides funding to TPS districts based on a district’s wealth index: the state pays a larger percentage of poorer districts’ construction costs.

In an attempt to consider strategies that legislators might consider, we looked around a bit at what other states are doing with regard to funding charter school facilities. For the most detail, see our policy brief, but keep reading here for a snapshot of innovative funding opportunities for charter schools.

Credit Enhancement Programs

According to the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), 9 states have some sort of Credit Enhancement Program. These programs allow charter schools to access higher bond ratings when borrowing funds, and in some cases, this can greatly lower the expense. In some cases, like in Colorado, qualified charter schools are also able to attach the state’s moral obligation pledge to their debt, meaning that the state has a moral obligation (although not technically a legal one) to step in and assist if a charter school defaults. Arkansas does have a credit enhancement program: the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) guarantees certain bonds using interest earnings derived from investments of the state.

Right to use TPS buildings

According to LISC, 11 states (California, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, and Wyoming) make district facilities available to charter schools either through requiring published lists of available buildings, offering charter schools the right of first refusal to lease or purchase, or in the case of two areas (California and New York City), requiring school districts provide space.

According to a 2013 report, 63% of open-enrollment charter schools reported that there are empty TPS buildings near their school. Five of these reported asking the district for use of that facility, but none were granted access.

In addition, early this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced said that charters in New York City will now have access to public school facilities at no charge, or the city will subsidize their school space.

District-Charter Compacts

Some innovative partnerships have recently developed between charter schools and traditional public school districts. These partnerships aim to be mutually-beneficial relationships. In some, charter schools take up residency in empty or underutilized district buildings. Charters benefit from reduced start-up or facilities funding costs, but districts can benefit in several ways as well: collaboration in professional development, spillover of positive charter school culture, and in some cases the ability to “claim” the higher test scores of charter students. Several successful district-charter compacts were highlighted in a recent Education Next article. For example, a YES Prep charter school in Aldine, TX partners with the local school district and the higher-scoring YES Prep students count toward the district average.yes prep logo

 The Gates Foundation provides funding for district-charter “compacts” in 20 cities (usually in the form of $100,000 planning grants). These grants pay for joint professional development, gates logodesigning a universal enrollment system, establishing metrics to be used with all students, and creating more personalized learning environments for students, and implementing common core state standards.

What’s to come in Arkansas?

During the 2015 session, if the legislature takes up the issues of facilities funding for charter schools, there are several models across the country that may serve as a guide. We at the OEP are big fans of ideas that involve partnerships or the use of under-utilized public resources.  Thus, in places where public school facilities are vacant while nearby charter schools are in need of space, we like the idea of a district-charter compact (highlighted above) or “shared-space” solution. For example, the KIPP Delta charter school in Helena is forced to use portable and has taken on several million dollars in debt, all while several elementary school buildings sit unused in the same city.  While there are challenges associated with creating such partnerships, this strategy has been employed in other states; surely educators in Arkansas can also figure out how to collaborate for the sake of our schoolchildren.

A second plausible strategy would involve the state’s public school facilities funds being made all available to all public schools, including open-enrollment charters. Of the 43 states with a charter law, just under one-third allow charters to access per-pupil facilities funding provided by state resources.

Whether Arkansas lawmakers pursue one of the above strategies or an innovation not mentioned here, it is likely that the 2015 session will involve some legislative work aimed at ensuring that students in all Arkansas public schools – charters and TPS – have access to adequate school facilities.

Four New Open-Enrollment Charter Schools Approved This Week

In The View from the OEP on October 17, 2014 at 11:12 am

On Wednesday and Thursday, Arkansas’ Charter Authorizing Panel held hearings for proposed open-enrollment charter schools. The Charter Authorizing Panel is appointed by the Commissioner of Education and is comprised of the Assistant Commissioners in the Arkansas Department of Education.

In an earlier blog post, we detailed the six proposed open-enrollment charter schools that applied to open for the 2015-16 school year. In addition to the six applications for new schools, KIPP Delta submitted an amendment request to open a middle school in Forrest City, making a total of seven charter school proposals that were scheduled to be heard this week. Due to existing laws, up to six open-enrollment charter schools could be authorized in the 2014-15 application cycle.

Due to application deficiencies in two proposed schools, the Charter Authorizing Panel held hearings for only 5 of the 7 proposed schools this week (4 applications and 1 amendment request): 4 proposed schools were approved, and 1 proposed school was denied.

Approved open-enrollment charters:

  • KIPP Delta received an amendment request to open a middle school in Forrest City. The school will open with 5th grade students in 2015-16 and expand from there. KIPP submitted an amendment request (as opposed to an application), due to an existing law that allows KIPP Delta to open new campuses under its original charter.
    • Forrest City School District submitted a letter opposing the school.
  • Capitol City Lighthouse Charter School was approved to open in North Little Rock. Currently, Lighthouse Academies operates charter schools in Jacksonville and Pine Bluff. The new charter school will open with students in grades K-6 and expand by one grade level each year to eventually serve K-12.
    • North Little Rock School District presented opposition to the school, highlighting a decrease in funding from the desegregation lawsuit.
  • Haas Hall Academy was approved to open a charter school in Bentonville. Haas Hall Academy currently operates an 8-12 charter school in Fayetteville that opened in 2004. The new school in Bentonville will serve students in grades 7-12.
  • Ozark Montessori Academy was approved to open a school in Springdale. The serve will initially serve students in grades K-6, but it will add a grade level in subsequent years to reach K-8. Ozark Montessori Academy stated that it will become the first public Montessori school in the state.

Denied open-enrollment charters:

  • Arkansas Connections Academy applied to open a virtual school to serve K-12 students across the state of Arkansas (with operations out of Bentonville). The charter sought to serve 1,000 students in year 1, 2,000 in year 2, and 3,000 in year 3.
    • The Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators spoke against the charter.
    • The panel unanimously denied the application based off a number of concerns, including technology support and teacher capacity. The panel voted to allow Arkansas Connections Academy to resubmit an application next year.

Tabled open-enrollment charters:

  • Redfield Tri-County Charter School applied to open a charter school in Redfield, where a middle school was closed after the 2012-13 school year (Redfield had previously been consolidated with White Hall School District).
  • Rockbridge Montessori School is seeking to open a school in Little Rock to serve students in K-8 (starting with K-4).

The tabled applications were postponed due to requirements regarding communication of the proposed charters schools in newspapers. The Charter Authorizing Panel will announce when the hearings of the last two schools will take place. Additionally, we may see appeals of the current decisions made to the State Board of Education. A request for an appeal can be made by a member of the State Board of Education, the proposed charter school team, or a school district in opposition to the charter school. The State Board of Education then must reach a majority vote to hear the appeal. If last year is any indicator, we might expect to see appeals made in the upcoming months.

Furthermore, in November, the Charter Authorizing Panel will hold hearings for five proposed district-conversion charter schools (read about the applications here). As always, we will keep you posted on these upcoming hearings and outcomes!


October Joint House and Senate Ed. Committee Meeting Recap

In The View from the OEP on October 15, 2014 at 12:14 pm

The education committees of the Arkansas House and Senate met jointly on Monday, October 13th and Tuesday, October 14th to hear interim study reports on grade-level reading, leadership development, and school choice and to discuss educational adequacy.

Grade-Level Reading

logoThe transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” that takes place between third and fourth grades was the basis of an interim study to identify strategies to help all Arkansas students achieve grade-level reading by 2020. Working group chair Angela Duran, Director of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade Level Reading, explained that entering fourth graders who read at grade level have greater success rates in high school and college. Among the working group recommendations are increased funding for the Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) pre-kindergarten program; expanding ABC and Head Start programs; evaluating the impact of school improvement consulting expenditures; improving data quality in absentee reporting; and ensuring that NSLA funds designated for summer and after-school program are spent accordingly.

Leadership Development in Education

In their annual report to the education committees, the Leadership Coordinating Council highlighted the superintendent mentoring program and the evaluation systems for principals and superintendents. All first-year Arkansas superintendents are required to complete 18 hours of professional development and 12 hours of interaction with a trained mentor. The recent increase in the number of program participants was attributed to a surge in retirements among “baby boomer” superintendents.

LEADS_FINAL_1All districts have implemented the Leader Excellence and Development System (LEADS) for principal evaluation, and the system has expanded to include other school administrators and district leaders. Later this year, a newly-developed system for superintendent evaluation will be piloted in ten schools and will include training for school board members.

Director David Cook of the Arkansas Leadership Academy (ALA) highlighted the new Student Voice initiative, which is set to expand across the state. Student Voice seeks to gather student input and “give students a sense of empowerment and ownership in their academic outcomes with the goal of improving the learning culture and closing the achievement gaps.” Arkansas Leadership Academy School Support Leader Belinda Akin described another new approach, a three-year pilot project in Pulaski County that focuses on building leadership capacity throughout a school district rather than in an individual school, which is the academy’s usual method.

School Choice

Dr. Patrick Wolf, Professor and 21st Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, presented an overview of school choice research as part of an interim study report required by House Bill 1897. Responding to four main questions asked in the interim study, Wolf summarized the existing rigorous research on the topic, finding: 1) school choice has either positive effects or no effect, but not negative effects, on student performance and attainment; 2) public school performance improves in the presence of school choice; 3) parent satisfaction increases with school choice; and 4) choice creates cost savings. Rep. Randy Alexander reported that the School Choice Committee recommends maintaining the 3% transfer cap for schools not in academic or facility distress, requiring parents to use existing bus pick-up points for their choice school, and adding private schools to enhance choice options and better meet the demand for transfers.

Educational Adequacy

Prior to each regular legislative session, the House and Senate committees on education are required to study educational adequacy and formally report their recommendations to the Governor and House and Senate leaders. Because education is the first priority in state funding, the adequacy report’s funding recommendations are key to the budget development process for the coming biennium. As the committees met on Wednesday to finalize their report, professional development, NSLA, and teacher salaries were among the most discussed funding items. A common theme of the conversation was the need to balance district spending flexibility and legislative funding intent.

Professional development (PD) funds were cut in the 2014-15 school year as one measure to cover school employee health insurance, and committee members disagreed about whether to restore this line item or leave it at the reduced level. Some legislators pointed to conversations with teachers who said the PD they receive is not helpful. Others referred to research findings linking well-trained teachers to student achievement and noted that districts are responsible for ensuring high quality PD. (OEP Research Sidenote: While many in the field believe that good professional development is important for teacher continued growth, there is little if any rigorous evidence pointing out which kinds of professional development are effective … check this federal IES report for documentation of the lack of evidence on this opic.) In a roll call vote, the committee decided to recommend funding professional development at the lower level and reducing the required hours accordingly.

Committee members also discussed whether to recommend increasing NSLA funding, with several arguing that additional funding helps the poorest schools. Others voiced concern about problems with the NSLA funding structure. The committee voted to recommend leaving NSLA funding at current levels, with a proviso for further study.  (OEP Research Sidenote: Readers of this blog may recall that the OEP has weighed in on this question in the past, arguing essentially that a “smoother curve” funding distribution, which would allow for greater concentration of resources in the poorest school districts, would be an improvement over the existing funding scheme … for example, see our 2013 policy brief on NSLA Poverty Funding).

The most vigorous discussion was devoted to the committees’ recommendation for teacher salaries, specifically whether to raise the statutory minimum salary, require a cost of living adjustment (COLA), or some combination of the two. Advocates for increasing the statutory minimum from $29,244 to $31,000 noted the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers in some areas, as well as the link between good teachers and student achievement. Proponents of the COLA approach said that schools with higher salaries are disadvantaged if more funding is directed to those districts paying the lowest salaries. The committee will take up the issue again on Monday, October 27 as the final item in the adequacy report due on November 1.


Arkansas’ Proposed Open-Enrollment Charter Schools for 2015-16

In The View from the OEP on October 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

This week, Arkansas’ Charter Authorizing Panel will hold hearings for proposed open-enrollment charter schools on Wednesday (October 15) and Thursday (October 16). In November, the panel will hold hearings for proposed district-conversion charter schools.

As you may remember, during the 2013 General Assembly, the legislature created a new authorizing panel that oversees the open-enrollment and district conversion charter process (read about the new panel in our 2013 blog post and policy brief). Previously, the State Board of Education served as the authorizer, but the legislature changed the authorizing panel to come from within the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE). The ADE Charter Authorizing Panel is appointed by the Commissioner of Education.

This year, 14 letters of intent for proposed open-enrollment charter schools were submitted in May, but only 6 applications were submitted in July (read a Democrat-Gazette article about the schools here). To apply for an open-enrollment charter school, an entity must submit detailed plans that include curriculum and instructional practices, calendar and daily schedule, teacher and staff capacity, salary schedule and budget (for two years), and evidence of public hearings and parental and community support.

Up to six open-enrollment charter schools can be authorized in the 2014-15 application cycle. 18 charters for open-enrollment schools/districts exist in 2014-15, and the law allows the cap to be extended up to 24 open-enrollment schools. Below we detail each of the proposed open-enrollment charter schools. Find the proposed schools’ applications here.

Wednesday’s hearings:

Proposed Charter Arkansas Connections Academy
Sponsoring entity Arkansas Connections Academy, Inc.
Location Virtual school (Operated out of Bentonville)
Expected districts to draw students from All school districts
2015-16 Grade levels K-12
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 1,000 (2,000 in year 2; 3,000 in year 3)
Focus “Personalized learning inherent in a high quality online school”
Other details Students slated to undergo 30 instructional hours a week with 180 days in a school year
Proposed Charter Capitol City Lighthouse Charter School
Sponsoring entity Lighthouse Academics of Central Arkansas, Inc. (National organization: Lighthouse Academies)
Location North Little Rock
Expected districts to draw students from North Little Rock School District; Little Rock School District; Pulaski County Special School District
2015-16 Grade levels (Grade levels when complete) K-6 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve K-12)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 344 (750)
Focus “Rigorous academic program that will integrate the arts with science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEAM)”
Other details Longer school day; longer school year; additional teacher development (160 hours of professional development); focus on student social and emotional development
Proposed Charter Haas Hall Academy
Sponsoring entity The Academy, Inc.
Location Bentonville
Expected districts to draw students from Bentonville School District; Rogers School District; Gentry School District; Decatur School District; Gravette School District; Pea Ridge School District; Siloam Springs School District
2015-16 Grade levels(Grade levels when complete) (7-12)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 320 (500)
Focus “To provide an aggressive alternative to the traditional learning environment of scholars with high intensity of purpose. Every Scholar, Every Day – College Bound!”
Other details Courses determined by academic ability (not grade level, except for English); ACT or SAT required for all 9-12 students each school term

Additionally, on Wednesday, KIPP Delta Public Schools will undergo a hearing to amend their charter to add a KIPP school in Forrest City. KIPP is seeking to open a school starting with grade 5 in 2015-16 and expanding to grades 5 – 8 within four years. Due to KIPP’s charter, KIPP can include the new school within its existing charter, rather than proposing a new, separate charter.

Thursday’s hearings:

Proposed Charter Ozark Montessori Academy
Sponsoring entity Ozark Education, Inc.
Location Springdale
Expected districts to draw students from Springdale School District; Bentonville School District; Fayetteville School District; Gentry School District; Greenland School District; Huntsville School District; Pea Ridge School District; Rogers School District
2015-16 Grade levels(Grade levels when complete) K-6 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve K-8)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 120 (280)
Focus Montessori “hands-on” curriculum; STEAM (science, technology, mathematics, arts, and engineering) project-based learning
Other details Small school; Multi-age classrooms; Technology focus, including video production, sound engineering, and computer coding; outdoor education; world language instruction
Proposed Charter Redfield Tri-County Charter School
Sponsoring entity -
Location Redfield
Expected districts to draw students from White Hall School District; Sheridan School District; Pulaski County Special School District
2015-16 Grade levels(Grade levels when complete) 5-8 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve 5-12)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 175 (375)
Focus “Academic excellence”; “Strive to instill in each student core character values, a sense of community service, and a love of learning”
Other details The Redfield School District was consolidated into White Hall, and at the end of the 2012-13 school year, the middle school in Redfield was closed.
Proposed Charter Rockbridge Montessori School
Sponsoring entity -
Location Little Rock
Expected districts to draw students from Little Rock School District; North Little Rock School District; Pulaski County School District; Benton School District; Bryant School District
2015-16 Grade levels (Grade levels when complete) K-4 (Add one grade each subsequent year to eventually serve K-8)
2015-16 Enrollment (Enrollment when complete) 125 (325)
Focus Montessori curriculum; “academically rigorous curriculum combined with practices of peaceful social development that result in joyful learning experiences for children”
Other details Multi-age classrooms; student choice in work plans

Last year, during the hearings, the Charter Authorizing Panel focused on the school’s curriculum and innovative practices, potential student body,  budget,  and parent and community support, among other issues. However, this year, the Charter Authorizing Panel is comprised of many new staff members, so we will see what the Panel chooses to focus on this year.  Furthermore, last year, a number of the decisions were appealed to the State Board of Education (the Board faced four appeals and reviewed two decisions). This year, in November, the State Board of Education will decide whether to review the Charter Authorizing Panel decisions, if an appeal is submitted. If the State Board decides to review a decision, the Board will determine the timeline to conduct the hearing.

This week, the Charter Authorizing Board hearings will begin each day at 8:30 AM in the ADE Auditorium. Read Wednesday’s agenda here and Thursday’s agenda here. You can watch the hearings live here. As always, we will keep you posted on the outcomes!

An Update on the Education Issues in the 2014 Arkansas Governor’s Race

In The View from the OEP on October 8, 2014 at 11:36 am

1407952203000-ross-hutchinsonWith the Arkansas midterm election less than a month away, we want to provide an update on the education issues at the center of our state’s governor’s Race. Last spring, we conducted interviews with each of the candidates to learn about their stances on education issues (view Asa Hutchinson’s interview here and Mike Ross’ interview here). In these interviews, the candidates discussed many issues including pre-kindergarten, technology, teacher quality, leadership, charter schools, and college access (read the policy brief summarizing the interviews here).

Both candidates recognize that education is very important to our state. Furthermore, both candidates acknowledge that Arkansas’ teachers are vital to providing quality education to our students. In recent interviews with the Arkansas Public Schools Resource Center, both Hutchinson and Ross discussed Arkansas’ teachers (view the APSRC interviews here).

As we discussed previously, the next Governor of Arkansas will not only have to make key appointments to lead the Arkansas Department of Education, but also will serve as the vocal leader in education reform. The governor can serve as a voice to champion promising ideas that can boost Arkansas’ students and the future of our economy. Therefore, as the election approaches, it is important that Arkansas’ voters know the stances of the candidates.

What are the main education issues facing the candidates?


Subsidized pre-kindergarten is offered to 4-year-old students in Arkansas through the Arkansas Better Chance program (state and locally funded) and Head Start (federally funded). The Arkansas Better Chance (ABC) program started in 1991 to provide pre-kindergarten to low-income and developmentally at-risk students. In 2003, Arkansas’ legislature increased funding towards pre-kindergarten to create the Arkansas Better Chance for School Success. Currently, subsidized pre-kindergarten is available to students with families up to 200 percent above the poverty level. Since the 2008 fiscal year, the amount of state funding for pre-kindergarten ($110 million) has not increased.

Where do the candidates stand on this issue?

Mike Ross’ education platform focuses on expanding pre-k for Arkansas’ students: “Mike Ross’ next goal will be to gradually increase investments in pre-kindergarten as the state can afford it, until every 4-year-old in Arkansas has access to high-quality pre-kindergarten education by 2025” (Source: Ross’ Pre-K Plan). To start, Ross’ plan aims to provide pre-k for students in families making up to 300 percent of the poverty level. Furthermore, Ross’ plans include covering half the cost of pre-k for students in families between 300 and 400 percent of the poverty level. Ross believes that his plan would cost an additional $37.5 million a year when funded fully. (Read Ross’ pre-k plan here.)

Hutchinson supports fully funding pre-K for all students in families that earn up to 200 percent of the poverty level.

No matter the outcome of the governor’s race, we expect pre-k funding to be discussed during the 2015 General Assembly.

Common Core State Standards

The Arkansas State Board of Education approved the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in July 2010. Across the nation and in Arkansas, the merit and implementation of CCSS has been debated. This summer, we released a detailed report highlighting the standards and the subsequent debate (read the report here).

Where do the candidates stand on this issue?

In recent debates, both candidates have acknowledged the debate surrounding the Common Core State Standards, and both have acknowledged the miscommunication that abounds. Both candidates have suggested that they support reviewing the Common Core to ensure that it is meeting Arkansas’ needs. However, it is important to note that neither candidate has campaigned against the Standards.

In June, Ross acknowledged the issues surrounding local and state control and the Standards, stating: “we need to ensure that the state of Arkansas always has control over its curriculum.”

In September, Hutchinson stated: “I think the important criteria is that we have high standards. Whether it’s Common Core standards or other standards, we need to recognize that, one, we have a mobile society and that was part of the design of the Common Core standards. And secondly, you don’t want to do anything to lower the standards and expectations for our students.”

We expect the debate surrounding the Common Core State Standards to continue; however, we believe that it is important to acknowledge Arkansas’ hard-working students, teachers, and administrators, who are currently using the Common Core State Standards in an effort to improve learning across the state.

Computer Science

Asa Hutchinson’s education platform calls for a computer science course (or a computer coding course) to be offered in every Arkansas high school. Hutchinson acknowledges that this change will require teacher training and/or access to online courses in many high schools. Hutchinson believes that the course “will motivate young people to consider a career path that centers on technology and computer skills.  This change will lay the foundation for future dynamic economic growth in Arkansas” (Source: The Hutchinson Plan for Job Creation Through Technology Education).

Other Issues

To review other issues facing the candidates, you can check out Asa Hutchinson’s platform and Mike Ross’ platform on their respective websites.

During the 2015 General Assembly, we expect a number of other education issues to be discussed including: broadband access, teacher health insurance (in fact, in a debate on October 7th, both candidates discussed the insurance issue), facilities funding, and the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 2013 (inter-district school choice). As always, we aim to keep you up-to-date regarding education policy in Arkansas; therefore, we will be providing you with more information about these issues and others in the months to leading up to the 2015 Legislative Session.

Remember that early voting starts on October 20th, and Election Day is November 4.

What’s New with PARCC and K-12 Testing in Arkansas?

In The View from the OEP on October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

As you know by now, this year, Arkansas has a new testing system for students in grades 3 – 11: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Last March, we released a blog post taking an in-depth look at PARCC, highlighting some of the unique features of the test. Since then, many details have been revealed by the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) regarding testing this year; therefore, in this blog post, we will provide you with these updates by answering some FAQs!

What assessments will students take this year?imgres

PARCC will be administered to students in:

  • Grades 3 – 8 in math and ELA/literacy
  • Grades 9 – 10 in ELA/literacy
  • Algebra I & Geometry

The Arkansas Benchmark will be administered to students in:

  • Grades 5 & 7 in science
  • Biology

Recently, the ADE submitted amendments to its ESEA Flexibility waiver to make changes to the state’s PARCC testing – if the amendments are accepted, PARCC Algebra II and PARCC Grade 11 ELA/literacy will be optional assessments that districts can choose to administer. If a district chooses to administer these exams, the ADE will cover the costs. If a district opts not to administer the Algebra II assessment, the ADE states that the district must provide students with the opportunity to take one the following assessments at no cost to the student: ACT, COMPASS, ASSET, PSAT, or SAT. Also, if the amendments are accepted, students taking Algebra I or Geometry in grades 7 or 8 will not be required to take the Grade 7 or 8 PARCC assessment and the Algebra/Geometry test; they would only have to take the Algebra I or Geometry test.

How will PARCC be administered?

PARCC will be administered online, unless a district has opted to administer the assessment by paper/pencil. For districts administering the assessment online, PARCC has released guidelines for technology usage to help districts prepare for the online test. Districts that opt to use the paper/pencil version had to submit an Assessment Hardship Waiver to the ADE by early August this year. Districts applying to opt into the paper/pencil version had to identify a reason why they could not administer the test online (insufficient bandwidth, insufficient device capacity, internal infrastructure, or other), and these districts had to submit a plan for how to address the deficiency, so PARCC could be administered online in future years. With all the broadband issues that have been discussed this year, we predict a number of districts have opted for the paper/pencil version, but the ADE has not released the list of districts yet.

When will testing take place?

Remember, there are two components to the PARCC assessments: the performance-based assessment and the end-of-year assessment. In a previous blog post, we outlined these assessments and the time spent testing (you can find more information from the ADE here). These tests will be taken in different windows, with the performance-based assessment administered first. The ADE released a helpful testing calendar for the PARCC assessments:

PARCC Calendar

Additionally, some high schools will be administering the PARCC this fall to block courses in grade 9-10 ELA/literacy and Algebra I and Geometry. The Benchmark exams will be administered to grades 5 & 7 in science April 14-15, and the End-of-Course Biology exam will be administered April 28-29.

Districts will decide at what point during the windows to administer the specific PARCC assessments. We predict that most districts will need to administer the assessments to different grade levels throughout the time block, as many districts will not have the capacity to administer the assessment to all students in a school on the same day. In that case, the ADE and PARCC will dictate the order of assessments.

We think that it is important to point out that the end-of-year assessment will be administered later this year than the previous Benchmark and End-of-Course exams. We predict this may result in the weeks in May looking much different in many schools than in the past when May was “post-testing” time.

“I am a teacher, and I want to know more about PARCC.”

PARCC has released two online learning modules for educators. The ADE highlighted the learning modules in a Commissioners’ Memo here.

“I am a parent, and I want to know more about what these assessments look like.”

PARCC has also released practice tests for the performance based assessments in ELA/literacy and math. The practice tests are simulations of the online assessments, so you can take the assessments just as students will do this spring!

PARCC Practice Tests

Furthermore, PARCC has released sample test questions in ELA/literacy and math. Read more about the sample questions and their features in our previous blog post.

Additionally, PARCC will release practice tests for the end-of-year assessments soon:

  • In November, you’ll be able to find a math and Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II end-of-year practice tests
  • In January, you’ll be able to find ELA/literacy end-of-year practice tests


As PARCC and the ADE release more information about PARCC and K-12 testing this year, we will keep you posted! As the testing in the state is undergoing these big changes this year, we believe it is important for all to be informed!

Next Generation Science Standards: Coming Soon to Arkansas?

In The View from the OEP on September 24, 2014 at 10:58 am

While the Common Core State Standards have dominated the standards’ limelight, we at the OEP also wanted to examine Common Core’s lesser-known cousin, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). In our newest policy brief, we discuss the possibility that the NGSS will have an Arkansas presence in the future, and if so, what this presence could mean for our K-12 students, educators, administrators, and other education stakeholders. The policy brief explores the motivation for new science standards, the current status of the NGSS, arguments for and against the standards, and a synopsis of the situation in Arkansas.

ngss logoWhat are the NGSS?

The Next Generation Science Standards are K-12 performance expectations for science that states may voluntarily adopt. Similar to the Common Core, the NGSS provide guidance in terms of what students should learn in each grade, K-12, but leaves decisions about curricula up to local school districts.

Current Adoption Status

The final version of the NGSS came out over a year ago, but to date, only 12 states and D.C. have chosen to adopt the standards. A timeline of which states have adopted the NGSS is available here. This adoption process is much slower than it was for Common Core. There are several speculations as to why the process of adopting the NGSS has been slower, including:

  • Many states are preoccupied with implementing the Common Core
  • Unlike the Common Core, there are no federal financial incentives attached to adopting the NGSS
  • Some states have legislative/regulatory processes that delay the adoption of new standards
  • Some states have concerns with the standards’ content, such as its approach in teaching climate change and evolution


Arkansas is not included in the 13 “early adopters” but the Natural State is considered to be halfway to adoption, as this Science Standards Timeline for implementation from the ADE shows.

AR timeline

More information about Arkansas’ potential adoption of the NGSS is available here.

fordham reportNational Criticisms & Support

Just as for the Common Core, there are both ardent supporters and critics of the NGSS. Supporters of the NGSS are in favor of the standards’ emphasis on critical thinking and potential to prepare students for STEM careers. Supporters of the standards include representatives from several Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Intel Corp, and Time Warner Cable, and prominent foundations, such as the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

On the other hand, some critique the NGSS for a lack of rigor. The Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education think tank, gives the NGSS a grade of C. As with the Common Core, the Fordham Report also ranked states’ current standards and compared them to the alternative: NGSS. In the case of Arkansas,  Fordham awarded the current science standards a “B” and ranked them as “clearly superior” to the NGSS. However, the National Education Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank, critiques the Fordham report for the following reasons:

  • Possible conflict of interest: Fordham has their own set of science content standards. Follow this link and then scroll down through the document to page 55, and you will find their standards listed on pages 55 – 61.
  • Fordham’s science criteria earned low marks: Jack Hassard of the National Education Policy Center analyzed Fordham’s science crtieria using the Bloom categories in the Cognitive, Affective and Psycho-motor Domain. The Fordham science criteria scored low by these assessment criteria.

An Arkansas committee also differed in opinion from Fordham; 88% of the committee developed in Arkansas ranked the NGSS as higher than the current Arkansas science standards. These sorts of determinations about the quality of standards can be difficult to make and controversial.

So, is the NGSS a good option for Arkansas? Next, we will look at some Arkansas-specific information in relation to the standards.

State-Level Criticisms & Support

ar legislatureAt the Joint Education Committee meeting on August 11, 2014, Dr. Debbie Jones, Assistant Commissioner of Learning Services for the ADE gave a presentation to legislators on the Next Generation Science Standards.

Dr. Jones provided the following reasons to support the NGSS:

  • NGSS will help Arkansas students graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers, especially given the job growth in STEM fields.
  • In contrast to the current standards, which focus on memorizing facts, the NGSS require higher-level thinking.
  • Performance expectations are based on three elements that can be observed in a science classroom: (a) science and engineering practice activities, (b) disciplinary core ideas, and (c) cross-cutting concepts. Connections across subject matter areas are timely and appropriate to reinforce learning.
  • The NGSS implementation plan has been carefully designed in order to allow time for schools to prepare for the change.
  • The NGSS would improve the alignment of “when we teach what.”

Some concerns expressed by legislators:

  • Lower quality: Rep. Meeks expressed his “very serious concerns” that Arkansas is lowering its science standards by adopting NGSS. He cited the Fordham Institute study that indicates Arkansas standards are better than NGSS.
  • “Political issues being treated as facts:” Rep. Meeks also expressed concern that political issues are being treated as facts, pointing to a sentence on the last page of the handout that he perceived as treating climate change/global warming as factual. Jones noted that the statement in question is worded “impact of humans… on the local environment” and does not imply anything political, including global warming.
  • Science Accountability & Testing: Representative Douglas stated that K-4 teachers have told her they do not put science in the curriculum because they do not have time for material on which students are not tested. She questioned how teachers can be held accountable for new standards, asking, “How will these be implemented if we have standards now that aren’t being taught?” Jones replied that the group will address such issues as it moves into the assessment phase of the process.
  • Financial Impact: Other legislators questioned the financial impact on school districts of implementing the NGSS. Dr. Jones noted that the implementation timeline aligns with the cycle for adopting new materials, so that any new materials will be worked into the current cycle to avoid extra expense.

Science Test Scores in Arkansas

One of the reasons cited for development of the NGSS is because American performance in science has been weak. So, how do Arkansas students typically perform on science assessments? In short, the answer is not very well, although there has been some improvement in recent years.

Historically, Arkansas students score less well in science than they do in math and literacy. For example, in 2013-14, 82% of 5th graders scored proficient/advanced in literacy, 68% in math, and 57% in science. The difference in scores is more pronounced in 7th grade, where in the same year, 77% of 7th graders scored proficient/advanced in literacy, 69% in math and only 37% in science.

Arkansas Students % Proficient/Advanced on Science, Math, and Literacy Benchmark Exams By Year

NGSS graphAs illustrated in this graph, science testing in Arkansas is newer than testing in math and literacy. There are six years of science data vs. ten years of math and literacy data. One potential reason for the difference in scores could be that students are more consistently instructed in math and literacy because it is tested every year in grades 3-8, whereas science is only tested in 5th and 7th grade. As a result, teachers may feel pressured to focus instruction on math and literacy rather than science. Additionally, schools are not held accountable for science results under No Child Left Behind, thus administrators and teachers may not place as heavy of an emphasis on science. Finally, scores on the science exams may be lower simply because the tests are newer than math and literacy tests. We have seen a steady increase in math and literacy scores over time, which may indicate that scores get better as teachers and schools gain a better understanding of what is being assessed. A similar pattern can be seen for science although the scores are lower. It is possible that science scores look lower than math and literacy scores simply because the tests have not been around as long for teachers to familiarize themselves with the tests and tailor their instruction accordingly.

Arkansas Students % Proficient on Benchmark Exams:

Comparing First Year of Test Implementation Scores vs. Most Recent Scores

year one implementationThis graph illustrates the level of improvement shown in science, math, and literacy tests from the first year of the test’s implementation to the most recent data from 2013-14. Arkansas students have shown the greatest gains in math (27 percentage points), followed by literacy (26 percentage points) and then science, which has shown sluggish growth of 9 percentage points. Again, it should be noted that Arkansas has been testing in math and literacy for four more years than science.

Although science scores dipped last year, the following graph of 5th graders’ performance shows that since 2008, science scores have been slowly rising. The pattern for 7th graders is similar, but 7th graders have performed less well than the 5th graders.

5th grade 2014 science results

Middle School Science Results

Another “measuring stick” that we have available to help us compare Arkansas’ science test results is the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the “Nation’s Report Card”)  exam. The following graph compares 8th grade NAEP Science scores with 7th grade Arkansas Benchmark Science scores. As can be seen from the graph, Arkansas students have performed less well on the NAEP exam. More information on NAEP Science test results are available here.

Students’ Proficiency Levels in NAEP Science Exam vs. AR Benchmark Science Exam

NAEP vs. Benchmark comparison graphHigh School Science Results

Of the four End-of-Course (EOC) exams (Literacy, Algebra, Geometry, and Biology), Biology has the lowest exam scores nearly every year. In 2012-13, only 44% of students scored proficient or advanced on this exam while in every other EOC exam, overall Arkansas students’ scores were above 70% proficient or advanced. Low Biology EOC scores are comparable across regions, with Northwest Arkansas often scoring the highest, but not by much. As you can see from the table, testing well in Biology has been a struggle for Arkansas, although there was recent improvement in the 2013-14 scores.

Arkansas End-of-Course Biology Exam Results

EOC tableConclusion

In conclusion, Arkansas students have historically not performed as well in science as they have in other subjects, but there are many factors that could contribute to this performance other than the current science standards that Arkansas has in place. Arkansas is currently halfway to adoption of the NGSS (which, if adopted, will be adapted and become the Arkansas Science Standards), and there is a thorough plan in place for adoption and implementation of the standards. However, it is difficult to predict if new science standards will increase student achievement. As with Common Core, implementation of the standards will be a key factor. The ADE has created a survey for all science teachers, curriculum specialists, and administrators to gather their input on the new standards, which you can find here. Check out our newest policy brief for more information!

High-Achieving Elementary Schools By Grade Level and Region

In The View from the OEP on September 17, 2014 at 11:58 am

imgresToday we are releasing the second installment of our Outstanding Education Performance Awards: High-Achieving Elementary Schools By Grade Level and Region. These awards are based on the April 2014 Benchmark exam scores for students in grades 3-5.

This particular report is divided into two main sections:

  • The first section identifies the top 10 elementary schools in Arkansas by achievement in mathematics and literacy for grades 3, 4, and 5. (The top schools in grades 6, 7, and 8 will be released in our next installment.)
  • The second section of the report identifies the top 5 elementary schools by Benchmark performance in mathematics and literacy in each region of the state (Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest, and Southeast). It also includes the top 3 elementary schools for grades 3, 4, and 5 in each region of the state.

The high-achieving elementary schools were recognized based on the GPA of the school in each subject. The OEP calculates a GPA on the basis of the percentage of students that perform at each performance level on the Benchmark exam (advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic).  You can read more about our GPA measure here.

In this report, there are many schools that are full of hard-working students, teachers, and administrators. We would like to highlight just a few of these schools here:

If you want to see how your school performed, check out the OEP databases on our website. Every year, we release searchable databases by school and district overall and at each grade level (the databases go as far back as 2004-05). In the databases, there are demographic indicators for schools and districts, and you also can search and filter schools and districts by region.

We would like to extend congratulations to all of the high-achieving elementary schools in Arkansas based on performance on the Benchmark Exams! Stay tuned for our next installment of the OEP Awards, where we will highlight high-achieving middle schools by grade level (grades 6, 7, and 8) and by region!

Guest Blog Post: A-F School Letter Grades

In The View from the OEP on September 17, 2014 at 11:56 am

Guest Blog Post by Jeff Dean, Office of Innovation for Education


In April 2013, the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 696 (Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-2105), which requires the use of A-F school letter grades on the state’s annual school report cards it issues for schools. The subtitle of the law states that letter grades are intended “to clarify for parents the public school rating system on annual school report cards.” Letter grades will replace the two-category school rating system established by Act 35 of the 2nd Extraordinary Session in 2003 (Ark. Code Ann. § 6-15-2012-2013).

Precisely because letter grades are easily understood by everyone, they are potent. A-F letter grades aren’t inherently good or bad. They greatly increase the public visibility of the ratings placed on schools. If the underlying rating system is deeply flawed, then letter grades make things worse by increasing the impact of bad ratings. The inverse is also true: a good system can make a greater positive impact by the use of highly visible letter grades in place of more ambiguous labels.

Arkansas joins fourteen other states that have developed letter grading systems for schools. These letter grading systems have met with varying degrees of success over the past fifteen years. Those that have succeeded have had to strike an acceptable balance of simplicity, fairness, and meaning. They need to be simple, in order to be explained and understood by the public. They should be fair, so that schools are not penalized or rewarded for factors beyond their control. They also should be meaningful, so that leaders, educators, and communities can use them to guide and motivate improvement. No single priority can be satisfied perfectly. Given this tension, finding the right balance may seem like “Mission: Impossible”, but this need not be the case.

What’s simplest is not always best. Act 696 charged the State Board of Education with adopting “rules necessary to implement” an A-F system, giving the Board latitude to hear and approve a new model for school ratings. If the Board failed to adopt a new model, the letter grades assigned to schools would default to align with the labels given schools under federal accountability (ESEA Flexibility). This is the simplest possibility of all, given current accountability. Exemplary schools would earn an “A”, Achieving schools would earn a “B”, Needs Improvement schools would earn a “C”, Focus schools would earn a “D”, and Priority schools would earn an “F”. Hypothetically, if schools earned the same Flexibility labels in 2014 as they did in 2013, then only eight schools in Arkansas (out of over 1,000 schools total) would earn an “A”. The state would have 137 “B” schools, and 75% of all schools in the state (790 schools) would earn a “C”.

This distribution, although compliant with state and federal law, does not meaningfully describe and differentiate among Arkansas’ public schools. There are also problems of alignment. Focus schools, for instance, were identified by a different set of criteria (achievement gaps) than schools with other labels. To put those five labels on a continuum (which letter grading implicitly does) is misleading. Assigning a “D” to Focus schools implies that they are somehow less effective than “C” and more effective than “F” schools, when the issue at question for Focus schools is not effectiveness but equity. Simple, perhaps, but hardly fair or meaningful.

Given the possibility of these outcomes, the state decided to develop a grading model that would replace the repealed rating system, as well as provide more appropriate differentiation among schools as compared to ESEA Flexibility labels. Beginning in September 2013, policymakers and stakeholders were brought together by the Department of Education to discuss concerns and possibilities for school letter grades. School leaders stated a preference for a model that was intelligible to the public and that offered schools multiple ways to earn their grades. Veteran stakeholders of student testing and school accountability were anxious to improve upon past models yet not create a model that would be so different as to cause confusion. All parties realized an overriding need to balance simplicity with fairness, two factors which are in tension in any sort of rating system.

The end result of this process was a grading system consisting of up to four components:

  • Weighted Performance. Proficiency rates only consider whether a student scores above or below the proficiency cut point. Weighted performance gives additional consideration to other cut points. Schools earn points for students scoring Basic rather than Below Basic, as well as Advanced rather than Proficient.
  • ESEA Improvement. Schools earn points by meeting ESEA Flexibility targets (AMOs) in up to six categories, depending on size and grades served: Literacy – All Students, Literacy – TAGG Students, Math – All Students, Math – TAGG Students, Graduation – All Students, and Graduation – TAGG Students.
  • Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (where applicable).
  • Gap Adjustments (where applicable). Schools with above-average gaps between TAGG and non-TAGG students on achievement and/or graduation receive a penalty. Schools with smaller-than-average gaps receive a bonus. Schools with average gaps receive no adjustment.

By drawing upon measures and concepts that should be familiar to Arkansas leaders and educators, the grading system aims to be meaningful; a complete reinvention of school accountability would perhaps be so different that it would be less meaningful to those familiar with accountability in Arkansas. But the model also represents a refinement of measures that are familiar to Arkansas leaders and educators. It differentiates meaningfully among schools. And ultimately, it translates into a letter grade that has meaning for the public, for whom the law was intended to provide clearer information. It seeks to give a fair chance to all schools regardless of the challenges they may face. While people may fairly disagree on the merits of the model, it nonetheless represents the best efforts and input of a wide variety of stakeholders and policymakers around the state.

Perhaps the most important test of fairness for any grading model is its relationship to student poverty, a disadvantage over which schools have very little control. If school grades are highly correlated with poverty, then those grades say far more about the challenges schools face than they do about schools’ effectiveness in educating the students that walk in the door. In the model proposed by the Department of Education to the State Board, the correlation between schools’ grades and poverty levels is -0.36, which as a rule of thumb is considered modest. This modestly negative correlation tells us that schools with higher poverty rates sometimes tend to receive lower grades. Yet among all models considered, the one that was chosen exhibited the lowest correlation with poverty. Using some basic statistics, one can show that a correlation of -0.36 implies that only 13% of the differences in school grades can be accounted for by school poverty levels. The remaining 87% of variation arises from factors other than poverty. When the Office of Innovation examined these sources of variation, we found that school letter grades explained about 40% of the variation in student achievement (math and literacy) between schools after accounting for demographics including poverty.  While this doesn’t show that the grading system is perfect, it does show that it clears a fundamental hurdle in terms of fairness.


One of the concerns raised frequently by educators and policymakers is what to expect with letter grades given the arrival of the new PARCC tests this school year. A new test certainly presents challenges, and no one will know what effect the tests will have on letter grades until students actually take the test. But the A-F law, as well as the proposed model, gives full freedom to the State Board and the ADE to make adjustments as necessary to ensure a fair distribution of grades. The transition may require a “pause” in letter grades during 2015 to establish baselines for future improvement targets. To ensure schools have an opportunity to improve upon their 2014 letter grade, other methods could be used during the transition year to identify improvements in schools, and where appropriate, assign a higher grade for the pause year.

Looking beyond the first year of PARCC tests, the state will have the opportunity to use a more refined model of student learning growth which, if given greater emphasis, could compare schools with advantaged and disadvantaged populations in a way that improves upon the current model. As with any transition, uncertainty lies ahead, but the hope is that with a new test the state will be able to refine the proposed method for letter grades as well as the method for determining federal accountability. The transition will allow the state to integrate new possibilities while drawing upon the lessons learned from past models.

The goal of the process for determining letter grades remains the same: to balance simplicity with fairness while providing meaningful differentiation among schools. The goal of the letter grades which result from this process also remains the same: to clarify to parents the public school rating system. Whatever course our state chooses to pursue, giving attention and weight to the priorities exampled here will make our mission far more possible than we previously thought.

September Joint House and Senate Ed. Committee Meeting Recap

In The View from the OEP on September 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm

The Arkansas House and Senate Education Committees met jointly this week to discuss a range of topics, including broadband access, best practices in charter schools, teacher salaries, education funding, the new dyslexia law, and the state of health care workers in schools.

Small Rural School Experience with Broadband

internet accessJulie Johnson, Technology Coordinator for Cave City School District, presented the benefits and challenges of obtaining and using increased bandwidth as a small rural school. The Cave City School District has 1275 students, 72% of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Johnson described their efforts to obtain broadband access that began in 2002, and the obstacles they faced at every turn with their local provider or their out-of-state executives. Though the schools now have the bandwidth they need, the school district still struggles to maximize efficiency. Johnson also highlighted the benefits of faster Internet access and new devices, saying “it has opened up a whole new world for our kids.” Now all the K-2 students have iPads and “no longer have to fight over one book in the library. Students are more interested, and teachers can monitor progress more easily. Johnson said most of the students’ families do not have Internet at home, and the school has been creative in how to allow time for homework during and after school.

Access to Broadband

Arkansas is committed to providing high-speed internet access to every child in every classroom, but determining how to reach the goal and how much it will cost is complicated. Dr. Scott Price of Picus Odden & Associates presented to the committees a consolidated version of several reports on schools’ current internet capacity and expenditures, along with an overview of the information that will be available before the next legislative session in January 2015. This pending, in-depth study will examine schools’ capacity and local availability and the costs of bringing schools up to standards, including one-time and ongoing costs.

Best Practices in Charter Schools

best-practicesThe legislature requested an examination of best practices of public charter schools, both in Arkansas and across the nation, that may help to improve all public schools, and the joint committees approved a proposal by OEP’s Dr. Gary Ritter to conduct the study. OEP researchers will document best practices in existing literature for the forty states that have public charter schools. Specific to Arkansas, OEP will determine where charter schools are located and whom they serve, their unique characteristics, how they seek to involve parents, and the effectiveness of charter schools as measured by academic achievement. The study will be completed by January 2015.

Cost of Increasing Teacher Salaries

Noting that the statutory minimum for teacher salaries has not changed since the 2008-09 school year, the education committees requested in their June meeting that the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) provide more information about the cost of increasing the minimum salary. This week, BLR administrator Nell Smith presented several approaches to how increases could be calculated and distributed, with costs ranging from $2.7 to $6.9 million. The cost depends on a number of factors, including whether the payment would be one-time or ongoing, the amount of the salary increase, and whether the funding would be restricted to teacher salaries.

Arkansas School Funding Matrix

How can states be reasonably sure they are allocating funds among school districts adequately and equitably to improve student performance? Since 2004, the Arkansas legislature has worked with the national consulting firm of Picus Odden & Associates to apply the best research-based evidence to allocating school funding. In Tuesday’s meeting, the firm reported the most recent evidence and compared those recommendations to Arkansas funding levels, information that legislators will use to prepare for the upcoming session.

New Law on Dyslexia

A principal, a grandmother, and a child struggling to learn prompted the Flippin school district to decide “there is no point in waiting another year” to comply with legislation requiring screening and intervention for dyslexia. School representatives described for legislators their experience in training all K-12 teachers to recognize the warning signs of dyslexia, screening the identified students, and restructuring intervention time in adopting the Susan Barton approach. Since implementing the changes, Flippin students are showing documented growth on assessments, teachers are noting students’ new attitudes about school, and counselors are observing social and emotional improvements in students receiving the intervention.

Health Care Workers in Public Schools

school nurseSchool nurses treat students who have one or more of 37 chronic conditions, require one or more of 25 medical procedures daily, need medication at school, and sustain injuries or contract illnesses that require EMS or physician care immediately…all in addition to the routine screenings for hearing, vision, scoliosis, and body mass. Representatives of the 19-member Public School Health Services Committee reported these and other findings of a study requested by the legislature to determine the adequacy of health care staffing to meet the needs of public school students. In offering 12 recommendations for staffing and education levels, facilities, and reporting mandates, the committee expressed particular concern about the current law that makes health care staffing requirements dependent upon availability of state funds.


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