Concerns about adequate teacher salaries, meaningful evaluation systems, and efficient allocation of district resources shaped the discussion at this week’s House and Senate Education Committee meeting.
Mr. Richard Wilson, Assistant Director of Research at the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR), presented the second part of the BLR report comparing Arkansas teacher salaries to surrounding states and to other Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states. The report, based on data collected by the National Education Association (NEA), found that Arkansas teacher salaries were doing relative well in the rankings, particularly after accounting for cost-of-living differences between states. Legislators were interested in knowing how incomes in Arkansas generally compare to incomes in surrounding and SREB states, and how gross state product compares across states as additional gauges of how Arkansas measures up to these states. The first section of the BLR report, from April, is linked here. The second section, presented June 22, is linked here.
Teacher Excellence and Support System (TESS)
Dr. Ginny Blankenship, legislative analyst at the BLR, presented the results of the Bureau of Legislative Research’s biennial survey of schools, in which they surveyed all Arkansas superintendents, a random sample of 73 principals, and a random sample of 1,071 teachers. Dr. Blankenship reported the results relating to the current systems of teacher and principal evaluation, TESS (Teacher Excellence and Support System) and LEADS (Leader Excellence and Development System). Legislators expressed concerns about the differences in perceptions of the usefulness of the evaluation system between teachers and administrators, and the seeming consensus that TESS requires too much paperwork on the part of both teachers and administrators. Commissioner Key and staff from the Arkansas Department of Education stressed the need to ensure that TESS was viewed and implemented as a process of growth, not a complicated list of hoops for educators to jump through. ADE staff also noted that they were working with the Arkansas Education Association (AEA) to invest teachers in the process and opportunity of TESS. The BLR report is linked here.
School District Resource Allocation
Ms. Nell Smith, administrator for policy analysis and research at the BLR, presented the executive summary of a report that detailed how districts allocate funds originating from state Foundation funding, and how that allocation compares to the estimated costs in the state funding matrix. Ms. Smith noted that districts may be spending funds from other sources on areas covered by the matrix, and that the matrix is intended for allocation purposes, not to dictate expenditures. Legislators were concerned by differences in spending between districts by district characteristics, including achievement, and asked for more information on relationships between school improvements and changes in how funds are allocated. The executive summary is linked here. The 2015-16 funding matrix is linked here.
The education committees will meet on July 18th at 9:30 am and July 19th at 9:00 am. Here is a link to the meeting calendar.