University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Education Committees Hear Adequacy Testimony

In AR Legislature on January 13, 2016 at 11:09 am

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The state’s ongoing study of educational adequacy includes gathering input from stakeholders. Eight organizations presented their concerns and recommendations yesterday to the House and Senate education committees, and legislators discussed the wide variety of perspectives on how the funding going into public schools can best be applied to optimize student learning. Among the 25 or so recommendations contained in the reports, those mentioned most often pertained to NSL state funds, teacher retention, and academic facilities.

NSL State Funds

Background: NSL funds are distributed to school districts based on the number of students who qualify for a free or reduced price lunch.  The level of eligibility is measured by a reported household income, meaning that these funds seek to bridge the gap in providing for a more equitable education experience for these students.  For a more in-depth look at NSLA funding in Arkansas, read our prior blog post.

Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) urged legislators to limit the ways school districts can use NSL state funds to those with research evidence supporting achievement among the economically disadvantaged students for whom the money is intended to help. The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) suggested making a portion of the funds performance based as an incentive for schools to choose the most effective approaches, saying that restricting funds could limit innovation and exclude some programs that work.

Other groups were less prescriptive. The Arkansas School Boards Association (ASBA) acknowledged that the 32 allowable uses for NSL state funds may be too many, but they urged the committees to allow districts to continue using effective programs if some options are eliminated. The Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA) emphasized the importance of NSL state funds, noting student achievement is improving and achievement gap is narrowing. They agreed, however, that the program is due for a review. The Arkansas Education Association (AEA) also stopped short of calling for restrictions but emphasized that the funds should be directed to evidence-based efforts that benefit children from low-income families. The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF), primarily referencing the ForwARd report, asked legislators to hold districts more accountable for how these funds are spent.

Teacher Retention

Several presenters discussed the central role of teachers in educational adequacy and emphasized efforts to get and keep good teachers in all parts of the state. AACF urged committee members to address teacher salaries in communities where lower wealth puts school districts at a disadvantage in maintaining a highly qualified teacher corps. AAEA discussed salaries as one factor in the shrinking number of new and veteran teachers, and they recommended that “any increases in the per-student foundation funding amount should be accompanied by the same percentage increase in the minimum starting teacher salary.” AEA also included compensation in their broader focus on teacher recruitment and retention. The Arkansas State Teachers Association (ASTA) reported their membership feels strongly that affordable and quality health benefits are key in recruitment and retention. They said that while salary is always an issue among members, the most concern was expressed by those who have not had an increase in four to ten years.

Academic Facilities

AAEA and ASBA lauded the facilities improvements accomplished through the partnership program, and both recommended a follow-up to the statewide facilities assessment conducted 10 years ago. AEA joined these organizations in their concern about reduced funding for “warm, safe, and dry” projects; identifying a sustainable funding stream; and addressing the impact of community wealth differences in school districts’ abilities to raise local funds for facilities. The Arkansas Public School Resource Center’s (APSRC) report focused on facilities funding for open-enrollment charter schools; AAEA and ASBA expressed support for charter schools’ participation in the partnership program.

Funding for professional development and pre-kindergarten were among the other recommendations mentioned by more than one advocacy organization. The full reports are linked through the education committees’ meetings on the legislature’s online calendar.

 

 

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