University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

September Education Committee Meetings — Little Rock, AR

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on September 19, 2017 at 4:57 pm

capital-picTwo bi-partisan educational meetings held September 18th and 19th engaged lively discussions on a myriad of topics.  Monday afternoon was an educational caucus meeting that is a “deeper dive” by the educational committee before the larger committee meetings take place.  This week they honored the 2017 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, Courtney Cochran.  Ms. Cochran presented briefly on the importance of legislators getting into the schools to see what is happening on the ground.

Teacher Cadets

The remainder of the caucus meeting was a presentation to the committee from the Office of Educator Effectiveness on the Teacher Cadets program.  The Teacher Cadets program allows high school students to develop a better understanding of the field of education as well as promote growth in teacher preparation programs. Students participating in the program are paired with universities and earn concurrent credit towards education/teacher preparation hours. Teacher Cadets is a national program that has been in effect in Arkansas for 4 years, and is currently operating in 58 Arkansas schools. Some resistance seemed to stem from the lack of data to determine if the program was achieving its desired outcomes, as well as why the program is not being utilized in more (if not all schools) as it is relatively free to implement and open to all public schools. There seems to be a lack of Cadet programs in Southeast Arkansas, and the committee will continue to seek ways to engage districts to take part in this program.

Higher Education Funding

In large session, many of the states’ colleges and universities had representatives present to hear about the new funding calculations presented by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE).  The meeting was “standing room only” as stakeholders awaited more information on how their future funding could be affected.  Act 148 of 2017 required the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board to adopt policies developed by the ADHE necessary to implement a productivity based funding model for state-supported institutions of higher learning. The ADHE presented the proposed funding addendum that would incentivize institutional productivity over funding strictly based on needs.  Maria Markham, director of ADHE, began the presentation by highlighting the fact that Arkansas currently ranks 49th in the nation when considering the numbers of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher and 47th when all degree types are considered. These low ranking have been consistent over time, indicating that current and past funding models have had no impact on increasing student degree attainment in Arkansas.

The new funding model would work with additional “new money” that would need legislator approval, but recent comment by the governor suggest that money is available.  The committee utilized the amount of $10 million for their discussion as that would cover the cost if all institutions were found to be “positive growth institutions” and were awarded the financial bonus.  The funding model would utilize criteria to rank a college or university’s performance against itself to ensure that the institution is improving student degree completion and affordability. Institutions could gain additional funds by operating efficiently or be penalized (capped at 2%) for not being efficient.

The program is designed to encompass missions of varying institutions, so they won’t be penalized for being “liberal arts focused” by comparing them to themselves and similar institutions nationally.  There are different models for 2- and 4-year institutions.  year colleges that send students to universities will receive bonuses as well as those universities for graduating those students with existing credits. Universities would be weighted in their score on their ability to serve underserved student populations and graduate students in STEM fields, as well as utilizing money on student services vs operations. All credited programs will be counted in the calculations, but there was some pushback from legislators for programs that are not credit-based, but provide technical skills and education.

If this funding protocol was utilized today, the models show that among 4-year institutions, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville would receive the largest percentage of additional funding, and Henderson State would receive the lowest.  Among 2-year institutions, Arkansas State University-Newport would receive the largest percentage of additional funding with North Arkansas College receiving the lowest.

Representatives were apprehensive about several aspects of the new funding model.  They wanted to make sure there are ways for institutions to monitored, so they do not raise tuition or other expenses to cover cost of the “penalties.”  They also want to make sure that the state isn’t further creating an achievement gap by shifting money from low-performing schools to high-performing schools.  As stated by Senator Chesterfield when she said it reminds her of the old song that says, “Thems that get’s is thems that’s got”.

The chairman will allow the comments period to remain open on the topic until the 25th in order to allow all voices to be represented as many of the members present continued to have   questions, comments, and concerns.

School Nurses

The committee heard an update from the Public Health Services Advisory Committee about health issues of Arkansas Public School students and how school nursing services can be improved.  In the report it was noted that 38.8% of Arkansas children are obese or overweight and that for the first time obesity has surpassed attention disorders as the most frequent “chronic condition” for Arkansas school children.  The report also indicated that there are 950 school nurses reported in schools, and that based on acuity level 884 nurses are needed.

NSL Funding and Expenditures

The committee received an annual report on calculations for the free/reduced lunch program as well as the manner in which National School Lunch (NSL) funds are spent by districts.  NSL funds are provided to schools where more than 70% of the students are eligible for the federal free/reduced price lunch program. While state law lists a number of approved uses for the funding,  districts have some flexibility in the use of these funds, the majority of NSL funds support salaries and benefits for additional personnel such as curriculum specialists, instructional facilitators, counselors, social works and other personnel that support student learning. The committee sought to have measures to restrict the use of funds to areas that would be most effective in closing the achievement gap, but there was not clear direction regarding how to do so. In some cases, districts are not spending all of the funds provided, and four districts and one charter school were identified as having a portion of their NSL funding withheld by the ADE as a consequence for failing to spend at least 85% of funds previously distributed (per Act 1220 of 2011).

Issues of Equity

There was a presentation on the “issues of equity”.  This was a presentation that occurs annually that compares equity amongst youth across the state.  It measures opportunity, revenue, and expenditures as all elements of equity.

Interim Study Proposals

The committee also did hear from Rep. Meeks and approved the continuation of his sponsored ISP (interim study proposal).  The first proposal will allow studies to take place on the effects on technology being introduced to school children to find the optimal grade level to do so.  The second study proposes to study the effects of creating performance tasks for all grade levels for completion rather than simply attendance and hours.  Commissioner Key suggested that this is a process taking place of having personalized learning for individualized students, but that it is not currently occurring in every classroom statewide.

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