University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Legislative Update – April 6

In The View from the OEP on April 6, 2011 at 10:56 am

Well, as you probably have heard, last week wrapped up the legislative session for most people. While the Senators battling out the redistricting plans are still in Little Rock, most of the education bills have been settled. The meetings at the Capitol extended into many evenings. Here is our attempt at an update/summary of some of the key education bills:

School Funding

NSLA Funding

A bill proposed by Representative Pierce, HB1910, passed in both the House and Senate, which when signed, will make some significant changes to how NSLA funding is spent.  Simply put, this bill decreases the amount of this money that can be carried over each year and also tightens up how this money can be spent.

School Funding

The same Representative Pierce was not as lucky with HB 1877, which failed by eleven votes. This bill would have required schools below a certain, undefined level, follow the instructions of the Department of Education in adopting particular strategies aimed at increasing student achievement.

Transportation Funding
Quite a bit of attention was given to transportation this session. The House and Senate each proposed competing bills for how to address the shortcoming of the current funding formula that favors some districts, and inadequately funds many rural districts in the state. In a compromise, Senator Jeffress pulled his bill which would have provided additional funding for needy schools on the basis of miles used to transport children. Governor Beebe has committed to a transfer of  $500,000 from the  governor’s budget to help rural school districts deal with the rising fuel costs. House Bill 1901 was passed in the house, which will provide a 2% increase in per pupil funding for all districts instead of providing specific funding for transportation for certain students.

School Consolidation

There were quite a few conversations taking place at the Capitol with regard to school consolidation. One surprise in the legislative session was how close this talk came to passing into action with Representative Hubbard’s bill to amend the criteria used to determine whether a district should be consolidated. HB 2010 was one vote short of the needed 51 votes to pass the house floor. This bill would have allowed fiscal stability and academic performance of students to determine whether a school district would be consolidated if the school district  falls below the 350 mark.

Charter Schools

A substantial amount of attention was given to charter schools this time around. Several bills were passed into law that will both provide a more open environment to charters and also increase accountability for charters. Most of these bills were sponsored by Senator Gilbert Baker, a regular charter school champion these days. The cap of 24 was lifted on charter schools in Arkansas. Additionally, SB 436 was passed which increases certain reporting requirements for charters, with special attention given to the attrition rates. It also protects charters from certain liabilities; allows these schools to receive categorical funding in the year eligible children are enrolled; amends some of the persnickety details currently required in charter applications; and allows high quality charters to apply for expansion.

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