University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Recap of the State Board Meeting

In AR Legislature on February 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm

The monthly state board meeting was held on Monday in Little Rock. The agenda turned out to be pretty interesting, so we thought we would give a brief update to our faithful OEP readers. We only hit the big headlines, but if you so desire, you could watch the meeting in its entirety here on the ADE website.

ESEA Flexibility and Waivers

Dr. Kimbrell and a representative from the Arkansas Leadership Academy spoke before the state board Monday on the issue of the NCLB Waivers. The ADE has developed a proposal, which will be submitted to the US Dept of Ed by the February 21st deadline. the proposal requests a waiver from the requirements of No Child Left Behind in return for what the ADE is calling “a comprehensive interconnected plan”. The highlights of the proposal include:

  1. Participation in the Common Core Standards
  2. A Teacher Evaluation and Support System
  3. Simplification of Reporting for Schools
  4. Simplifying the Current Accountability System

The first three items are rather self-explanatory; and the first two are already on their way to becoming policy regardless of whether we receive ESEA waivers.  That being said, the third highlight could create a few changes. Namely, the proposal would decrease the number of labels for schools from 16 to 5: exemplary, achieving, needs improvement, focus, and priority.  According to the ADE blog the ADE’s plan calls for reducing the proficiency gap between the overall population in a school and the historically low-performing groups of students within each school by half by 2017. The state’s goal is to identify chronically low-performing schools and find a way to support them.

Pulaski County Special School District

In an unprecedented move, a school district currently on the fiscal distress list was tagged for the fiscal distress list again, but for a different reason: a declining balance. This is also an unusual situation because the state currently provides oversight for the school after it was placed on the fiscal distress list last year.  The state is only allowed to take control and keep control of a district for 2 years under the current fiscal distress laws. Bill Goff, former CFO for the ADE and current CFO for PCSSD, agreed with Dr. Kimbrell that it might be beneficial to amend those laws to allow the state to take over a district for 5 years instead of only 2.

The state-appointed Superintendent, Jerry Guess, said he would request that the teacher unions re-open negotiation on the contracts in order to cut some of the personnel expenses that exceed legal requirements. Guess indicated that a failure to do so would be “fatal”.

ABC Rules

Finally, the much awaited Arkansas Better Chance program rules went up for approval by the board. These rules, which address issues of allowing faith-based providers to allow religious instruction after the 7-hour ABC school day, will now go out for public comment.

Several board members questioned whether it was appropriate for the state to allow religious instruction after the 7-hour school day. However, it is not obvious that this presents a “Constitutional” problem since these schools typically charge parents for the additional hours of the program that extend from around 3-5 PM each day as a service to working parents. These are privately funded parts of the day.  (Moreover, many of the students in these private schools are actually paying tuition for the entire school-day.)

So, the the headline here, is once again, a little misguided. The state is not weighing in on “rules for proselytizing on the state dime”; instead, the state is specifically creating a rule to provide clarification regarding when students are there on the state dime and when students are attending–as is actually the case after 7 hours–on the parent’s dime.

It’s actually quite normal for academic programs to fund programs with ear-marked funds out of a certain bucket or pot of funds not reserved from a typical day’s program. For example, Title I funds are not allowed to supplant regular instruction and therefore schools must ensure that these funds are not intermingled with the general classroom instruction. This really isn’t any different.

The board agreed to put the rules out for public comment with the understanding that the rules may be changed.

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  1. Maybe you should look at the financial records for Justin Harris’ pre-school and see how much money parents pay for the extended days at his facility and how much of the overhead of that facility is paid by tax money.

  2. Hey Max, first of all, great to see you here on this blog.
    As for the individual situation with Justin Harris, we are not familiar with the specifics of his situation and if there is any alleged wrongdoing with his finances, most definitely the case should be investigated by the state. Our point is simply what was stated above: The state is not weighing in on “rules for proselytizing on the state dime”; instead, the state is specifically creating a rule to provide clarification regarding when students are there on the state dime and when students are attending–as is actually the case after 7 hours–on the parent’s dime.

    However, I will say we would be concerned about the state making a law based on the alleged wrongdoing of one person that would affect the access of students across the state to high-quality preschool programs. In many areas, only faith-based organizations such as churches have the infrastructure (read: buildings) to house preschools.

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