University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Education Committees Discuss Funding Ahead of Fiscal Session

In The View from the OEP on February 10, 2016 at 11:49 am

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Based on discussions in this week’s meetings of the Education Caucus and the House and Senate education committees, we expect that use of NSL state funds will be the main education-related topic at the 2016 Fiscal Session scheduled to begin April 13. Transportation funding may get some attention if legislators come up with an alternative approach to allocating funding more equitably among the wide-ranging needs of districts.

 NSL State Funds

The Education Caucus discussion focused on NSL state funds. Legislators are frustrated that districts’ use of these general revenue dollars aimed at closing the achievement gap between poor students and their more affluent peers has not resulted in the expected improvement. About $210 million of categorical NSL state funds were given to school districts and charter schools in 2014-15, up from $160 million in 2008-09, as the proportion of students qualifying for free and reduced price lunches has increased. (See BLR’s detailed research report.) Lawmakers are questioning the effectiveness of the 28 or so eligible expenditures and considering whether the list should be narrowed to programs with the most support in research. At the Education Caucus meeting, advocacy organizations further explained their ideas that were part of larger reports presented earlier this year (OEP blog post January 13).

  • The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) recommended designating a portion of the NSL funds as performance-based, phasing in to 20% performance-based by 2021, saying that eliminating options runs counter to the state’s emphasis on innovation.
  • Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) recommended limiting the uses of NSL state funds to those with the strongest evidence base, such as pre-kindergarten, after-school, and summer programs.
  • Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators (AAEA) liked the idea of incentives, but Executive Director Richard Abernathy disagreed with “cutting 20% from funding and then calling it an incentive.” He said AAEA supports using funds for the most effective programs but urged lawmakers to “leave alone” the schools where programs are working. Abernathy also recommended “smoothing the funding cliffs” and keeping the funds as a separate category rather than combining with something else.
  • Arkansas School Boards Association concurred with the AAEA view that incentives are helpful but not if taken from current funding. Saying that some programs reinforce each other, Executive Director Tony Prothro cautioned that eliminating one program may have the unintended consequence of making other programs less effective.

Senator Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) asked if policymakers “should look at poverty in a different way,” saying that the federal poverty standard may not accurately reflect the situations of Arkansas students when it comes to distributing NSL state funds.

OEP will keep you posted as legislators continue to grapple with NSL, transportation, and other Fiscal Session issues.

 

 

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