University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

An Adequate Education: What is it and how much does it cost?

In AR Legislature on June 24, 2015 at 11:35 pm


Educational Adequacy Committee to Meet this Summer

Summertime in Arkansas… flip-flops, lemonade, beach books…adequacy study? It has been over ten years since the first meeting of Arkansas’ Educational Adequacy Committee, so we figured that now is the perfect time to share the committee’s history and what they are working towards.

The Educational Adequacy Committee was founded in 2002 as a result of the Arkansas Supreme Court case Lake View School District, No. 25 v. Huckabee. Prior to the Lake View case, local property taxes were simply collected and used to fund public schools. Therefore, schools in wealthier districts collected more money from property taxes, and schools in poorer areas had less money to contribute. As a result, districts in poor areas did not have enough funding to meet students’ basic educational needs. The judge of the Lake View case stated that, “The school funding system now in place . . . is inequitable and inadequate under . . . the Arkansas constitution,” as the state constitution mandates a “general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools.”  As a result of the Lake View ruling, the state needed to find a way to provide “adequate” funding for K-12 public education. Prior to Lake View, schools were operating with the funding made available to them—not the amount of funding needed to provide a quality education to students. Also, before the ruling, public schools were not the top funding priority. After Lake View, it was mandated that public schools be funded first, even if that meant reduced support for other state entities like prisons, hospitals, or roads.

This sounds simple enough in theory—providing every Arkansas student with an adequate education—but the word “adequate” raised an important question. What amount of money is needed to provide an adequate education and how can we determine what is this exact number? Without conducting studies to determine the amount of money schools need to spend per student, how else could Arkansas comply with the Lake View decision, and more importantly, how could it ensure that students were receiving a quality education? Arkansas decided to conduct a study to determine the exact dollar amount schools needed for each student in order to provide an adequate education.

The state contracted Lawrence O. Picus and Allan R. Odden, school finance specialists, to perform this study. Picus and Odden followed an expert based approach, where they interviewed a variety of school teachers, staff, and administrations and identified elements schools needed. Some of the different items discussed were curricula, facilities, technology, specialists, and equipment. After determining the specific components “adequate” schools provided, a ‘per student cost’ was determined based on a matrix. Picus and Odden presented this information to the state legislature in 2003-04 during the Lake View Special Session. Following Picus and Odden’s advice while simultaneously considering state budget constraints, the committee subgroup determined that K-12 public schools need foundation funding of $5,400 per student to provide an adequate education. The foundation funding is the funding floor, with categorical funds available for students with more needs. Schools with students who are English Language Learners, eligible for free/reduced lunch, or placed in an alternative learning environment are eligible for the categorical funds available at a progressive rate.

The Educational Adequacy Committee continues to meet regularly to ensure that the foundation funding per student, ($6,521 currently), and the categorical funds (funds for students with additional needs), continue to meet the costs of providing students with a quality education, accounting for inflation and changes in the costs of services over time. If you are interested in additional information about the funding formula, check out our 2008 AR Education Report on School Finance.

The 2012-14 adequacy study report submitted last November represented data obtained from district and school administrators and educators, state education agencies, educational advocacy organizations, and task forces on specific topics. The process included 65 presenters in 25 meetings and dozens of reports. The education committees evaluate progress on recommendations from the most recent adequacy report and address any other adequacy related issues prior to each fiscal session, making the study a continuous process. (See the Bureau of Legislative Research website for more information.)  For more information about educational adequacy, see our 2012 report.

Perhaps because of the continued focus on adequacy, Arkansas is 1 of just 26 states in the U.S. that ensure educational equity based on school funding. While ensuring educational adequacy can be both a difficult and controversial process, it is certainly a vital one.

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