University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on August 24, 2016 at 1:22 pm



Arkansas House and Senate education committees met jointly this week and discussed reports on teacher supply, special education, and academic distress.

Teacher supply

“Greening and graying” are just two of the trends that Arkansas has to address in building and maintaining a diverse and experienced teacher workforce that is appropriately distributed among all schools, according to ADE Assistant Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer. Teachers with the most experience are nearing retirement age, and younger teachers are more likely to leave the profession. Types of shortages vary by region, but the rate of teacher turnover is higher in high poverty and high minority schools. Students in those schools are also more likely to have teachers with less experience or teaching out of field. Pfeffer said ADE is developing a strategic plan that includes a “coming back” campaign to recruit teachers back to the classroom, among other efforts. Pfeffer also noted several areas where ADE is conducting more in-depth examinations of data to better understand and respond to workforce issues.

Special education

A special education task force has completed its work, and Sen. Uvalde Lindsey of Fayetteville presented the group’s draft report. The task force reached consensus on 30 recommendations related to early diagnosis of disabilities; improved coordination among stakeholders; additional support for parents, teachers, and schools; and increased funding. The report was dedicated to the late Rep. Sheilla Lampkin of Monticello, a former special education teacher and diligent advocate who sponsored the enabling legislation and worked on the task force, but passed away before the report was completed.

Academic distress

Arkansas law mandates that the legislature’s ongoing study of educational adequacy must include an examination of the academic distress program for schools or school districts where academic achievement has not met a required standard for several years. The written report from the Bureau of Legislative Research gives a concise explanation of various aspects of the academic distress designation, feedback from superintendents of affected districts, and similar policies in other states. Some committee members expressed concern about the academic distress label and encouraged their peers to look at policy solutions to help schools before the designation becomes necessary and is made public.



Revamping Higher Education Funding in the Natural State

In The View from the OEP on August 10, 2016 at 11:31 am


Late last month, Gov. Hutchinson supported the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) Coordinating Board’s unanimously approve proposal to change the funding formula for Arkansas’s public post-secondary institutions. The proposed funding model uses an outcomes-based approach, placing a higher priority on college completion than the current model. Right now, the main consideration in funding Arkansas colleges and universities is enrollment, a policy that does little to reward success.

While the proposed funding formula is still in the early stages of the legislative process, it is designed to spend money more effectively and support universities’ efforts to get students through rather than to college. The proposal goes to the Legislature during the 2017 session and would—if passed—make Arkansas’s higher education funding formula similar to other states with outcomes-based funding formulas. But what exactly is this proposed plan and is it good for students?

Higher Education Funding in Arkansas

Currently, the state’s higher education funding formula has a 90-10 split, based on need (enrollment, infrastructure, etc.) and performance (graduation, credit completion, etc.), respectively. Under the new plan, 100% of funding is tied to outcomes like program completion, number of graduates getting jobs/other degrees, and on-time graduation rates. A press release from the governor’s office expressed strong support for the proposal as a way to incentivize institutional leaders to emphasize educating students by putting money into resources, like academic support services, that are directly related to student learning.

Former ADHE director Bret Powell described the potential switch as a move that “would change the conversation from, ‘We have students, so give us funding,’ to ‘We have achieved these results, and the funding should follow those results.’” Though it is still unclear in these early stages, it is unlikely the new funding formula would lead to decreases in funding. In addition, the new formula may lead to fewer increases in charged tuition and fees, lessening the financial barriers to college and potential student loan debt faced by many Arkansas families.

Outcomes-Based Funding Elsewhere

Although this change to Arkansas’s higher education funding formula is still in the proposal stages, if Arkansas lawmakers approve the change we will join several other states in funding postsecondary education based on outcomes. For a complete description of funding allocation in the other states, please visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.


Similar to Arkansas’s current model, Indiana has used a two-part funding system based on enrollment changes and performance of students. A majority of Indiana’s funding is based on the change in enrollment from year-to-year, but a gradually increasing percentage of funding is tied to student performance (6% of funding in 2014-15). An important aspect that Arkansas legislators should consider is the seven clearly stated outcomes in Indiana’s formula, including degree completion, student persistence, and remediation success. Degree completion has the most weight in this formula.


Under the leadership of Gov. John Kasich, Ohio restructured their higher education funding formula in fiscal year 2014-15. Much like Arkansas’s proposed plan, Ohio ties 100% of institutional funding to performance. At Ohio’s public 2-year and 4-year institutions, funding is tied 100% to undergraduate students’ course completion and graduation rates. At the moment, it is still a bit too early to know what the impact of this change has been in Ohio.


Tennessee passed the Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 to improve the state’s college completion rate. Each institution receives a base fund to support operations, but 100% of funds on top of this base are a result of a points system based entirely on student outcomes. Tennessee includes credits accumulated, degrees completed, and 6-year graduation rates at 4-year institutions in the model. Community colleges have similar outcomes with additional outcomes including dual enrollment at a 4-year institution and graduates who were placed in jobs.

Promise and Pitfalls of Changes

There is something to be said for focusing on outcomes. Tying institutional funding to student success will likely hold institutions more accountable for educating students, rather than focusing on increasing enrollment numbers and potentially enrolling higher numbers of academically unprepared students who may dropout after accruing some student loan debt. The most likely outcomes will focus on degree completion and credits earned.

Improving college outcomes is admirable and important to the state, but goals will need to be very clearly stated (like those in Indiana) and implemented with controls to ensure the value of a college degree does not get “watered down”. A legitimate concern with an outcomes-based formula is the appeal of more money leading institutions to become “degree factories” rather than preparing students for their future careers.

At the moment, we do not know all of the details of the proposed changes to Arkansas’s higher education funding formula. The only sure thing is the ADHE wants to change the funding formula to be based entirely on student outcomes and having little to do with enrollment numbers. The Legislature has a tall task ahead of them in 2017, one that could profoundly change the way Arkansas’s postsecondary institutions are funded.

2016 OEP Conference Registration Is Open!

In The View from the OEP on August 3, 2016 at 11:47 am

Register now for the 2016 OEP Conference Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at Heifer International in Little Rock!


OEP Logo JPEG-2rel logo


We are very excited about partnering with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest on this year’s theme of Unlocking Key Challenges Facing Arkansas’ Schools.

Dr. William Gormley from the Center for Research on Children in the U.S. will present the Keynote on Oklahoma’s Universal Prekindergarten Program and Cory Biggs, Associate Director of ForwARd Arkansas, will discuss opportunities for systemic change in Arkansas.

Breakout sessions will feature speakers and panels discussing research, practice and policy surrounding Prekindergarten, Rural Education and Diverse Learners. You can find out more details below.

There is no cost to attend but space is limited, so please don’t delay! Register now

Can’t wait to see you there!


Checkout some of the sessions that will be at the conference:

Diverse Learners: KIPP Delta- 15 Years- A Retrospective  (Lessons taught and lessons learned) Scott Shirey, founder and executive director, KIPP Delta Public Schools

Rural PD: What does the literature say and how can it be implemented in Arkansas?   Haidee Williams, REL Southwest and Erin Haynes, REL Southwest

Prekindergarten: Research-to-Practice: Current Research Influencing the Field   Janice Keizer, REL Southwest and Sarah Caverly, REL Southwest

Diverse Learners: Facilitating a PLC to Support English Learners  Jackie Burniske, REL Southwest   Kathleen Theodore, Southeast Comprehensive Center

Prekindergarten: Designing and Sustaining Accessible Prekindergarten Programming in Arkansas   Tonya Williams, Department of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, DHS  Jody Veit-Edrington, Coordinator of Early Childhood Programs, NLR Public Schools  Jenny Barber, Supervisor of Federal Programs and Preschool Education, Russellville Public Schools

Rural Education: Rural Teacher Recruitment and Retention Practices Identified in the Literature    Haidee Williams, REL Southwest  Bobby Hart, Superintendent, Hope Public Schools Chintan Desai, KIPP Delta




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