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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.

HB1208 and HB1222: More channels for Arkansas students

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on January 25, 2017 at 11:52 am


Two bills introduced in the Arkansas state legislature have gotten us thinking about TV, cable, and Netflix.

The first bill, (HB1208), would allow districts to adopt a policy allowing private school or homeschool students to enroll in academic courses at a the public school, and provides funding to the district for each student that does so.

The second bill, The Arkansas Parental Empowerment for Education Choice Act of 2017 (HB1222), would create Education Savings Accounts that parents could use to support non-public schooling options such a private school tuition or curriculum materials for homeschoolers. 

More details about the bills are provided below, but essentially, one bill provides support for public schools that offer part-time academic enrollment to students who are not currently attending public school, and the other provides financial support parents that want a non-public option. The bills move our students closer to learning what they need, when they need, where they need.

And that’s why we were thinking about TV….

When we were growing up there were a few channels on the TV and they were the same for everyone.  Along came the VHS (and the doomed Betamax) and you could rent movies to watch at home and even set up your VCR to record something off of the TV. Then came cable, and (for a price) you could get cool shows on Showtime and HBO.  Soon you could record your shows on devices like TiVo, and pause and fast forward through commercials (which we LOVE)!  Some people got frustrated with the ‘cable packages’ (where you have to pay for lots of channels you will never watch in order to get the one or two you want) and have left cable for on-demand streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.  The students in our classrooms now likely ONLY stream their content.  These services allow subscribers to watch what they want, when they want, where they want.

There are parallels to learning: In the past there were mainly public schools and private schools.  Additional options have increased in Arkansas and across the country- including virtual, charter, and homeschool options. Now we are getting options to mix and match- public schools are getting the opportunity to allow these students to enroll for a specific class or two and parents who are choosing the non-public options are getting an opportunity to get some financial support for their student’s education.

We look forward to seeing how these bills progress through the session.  We think students benefit from both these bills and don’t see a significant downside.  Famillies and students expect to be able to make choices that best match thier needs. Educational options should provide students opportunities to do the same.

HB1208 would allow districts to adopt a policy allowing private school or homeschool students to enroll in academic courses at a the public school, and provides funding to the district for each student that does so.

What it is: Students who are not attending public school may, if the local public school district agrees, enroll in an academic class at the local public school. Homeschool students are already allowed to participate in interscholastic activities such as sports, fine arts, or clubs.

Districts are not required to allow homeschool or private school students to enroll.  If the district did allow enrollment, the state would pay the district an amount equal to 1/6th of foundation funding for each course in which a homeschool or private school student enrolls. Given that foundation funding for 2016-17 is $6,646, that works out to about $1,100 per class/student annually. Districts can limit the enrollment to certain grade levels or courses, to a certain number of students, and/or set specific admissions criteria.  We like the idea of homeschool students having access to Project Lead the Way courses, AP classes, or any class taught by an outstanding public school teacher.

Who is eligible:   Any district may choose to adopt such policies and any homeschool or private school student may enroll if the local district allows.  There is no enrollment cap included in the legisaltion. In 2015-16, 19,229 students were homeschooled, a population equivalent to about 4% of the public school population.  Homeschool rates (as a percentage of the public school population) ranges from 0% to over 15%.

The Arkansas Parental Empowerment for Education Choice Act of 2017 (HB1222)

What it is: In lieu of attending a public school, Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) allow families to allocate funding to non-public schooling options of their choice. The amount equivalent to the foundation funding amount ($6,646 for 2016-17) will be placed in an ESA and the funds can be used to:

  • pay tuition at a private school,
  • purchase curriculum or instructional materials for homeschool studies, 
  • purchase tutoring services, 
  • pay fees for AP examinations, college placement examinations, Industry certification examinations,  
  • pay tuition for after-school or summer programs focused on academic instruction,
  • make contributions to a college savings account,
  • pay tuition or fees at an institution of higher education,
  • pay for specialized services for eligible students (such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, audiology), and/ or
  • pay transportation costs for travel to educational services.

Who is eligible:  The proposed program would allow any child eligible to enroll in a K-12 public school in the state to qualify for the ESA.   Five states that currently have ESA programs:  Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Tennessee, have limitations about the types of students who are eligible. Students must be identified with special needs to be eligible in Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  Students in Arizona and Nevada must have previously attended a public school to be eligible.  Arkansas is the first state to propose a fully-universal ESA.

Given maximum funding, approximately 2,000 students could receive an ESA for the 2017-18 school year. This is 0.4% of current public school enrollment.  In the first year, if the number of students applying for an ESA exceeds the funding available, accounts will be offered through a weighted lottery that ensures students receiving Free/Reduced Lunch (FRL) are proportionally represented. Statewide, 61% of public school students currently receive FRL so the lottery would be weighted to ensure that 61% of the accounts were allocated to FRL students. If fewer than 61% of applications are from FRL-eligible students, 100% of the FRL students will be selected for an account.

In subsequent years, if the number of students applying for an ESA exceeds the funding available, current users and their siblings are prioritized for ESAs.

Initial analysis of fiscal impacts of the bill indicate it will likely be cost neutral for the state.

Vouchers in Arkansas: Examining the Succeed Scholarship Program

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on January 11, 2017 at 1:34 pm


President-elect Donald Trump, an open supporter of school choice, has nominated Betsy Devos for Secretary of Education. Devos was most recently the Chairwoman of the board of directors for the American Federation for Children, a lobbying, political action committee (PAC), and non-profit organization that promotes school choice across the country.  This political atmosphere requires that we think critically about how school choice policies apply to the state of Arkansas.

School Choice in Arkansas

Arkansas already provides for several types of school choice. The most well-known is charter schools, which are public schools that are independently operated but receive federal and state funding and held to all accountability requirements. Currently, Arkansas has 24 open-enrollment charter schools operating 43 campuses.  Another type of school choice that may be less familiar is vouchers. Arkansas has a new program allowing such vouchers for students with disabilities, and today’s policy brief examines the program and what it might mean for Arkansas.

The Succeed Scholarship

The 2016-17 school year is the first year that Arkansas’ students with disabilities could use state education dollars as tuition at authorized private schools. The Succeed Scholarship Program, passed by House Bill 1552, permits public school students with disabilities to transfer to an approved private school of their parent’s choosing with the support of the student’s full foundation funding to cover school tuition and fees. Students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) can apply to participating private schools, and, if accepted, receive a voucher worth the state’s foundation funding amount (currently $6,646) or school tuition, whichever is less. Approved private schools are held to academic, fiscal, non-discrimination, and safety standards.

The underlying belief behind private school choice is that parents have their own goals for the education of their students and also have a better understanding of what their student needs than do school officials. In the case of special education students, this is critical because traditional public schools offer similar special education services, and parents may not feel that these services will meet the needs of their student.  Moreover, students who are geographically tied to attend a poor performing traditional school should be provided the means to obtain a high quality education regardless of their family wealth.  These types of choices have always been afforded to wealthy Americans, and private school choice programs afford all parents the same options.

Private school choice programs (i.e. vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, etc.) for students with disabilities are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in the southern United States. While most other private school choice programs target students from low-income households, programs like the Succeed Scholarship offer a private school voucher to students based on enrollment in special education.  Special education has had a long history of utilizing private schools to provide appropriate services for students with disabilities.  Through the IEP process, districts can place students in private schools if they are unable to properly support their academic progress.  A voucher, however, takes the district decision-making out of the equation, and it allows parents to place their students in private schools on their own.

Impacts for Arkansas

There are potential cost savings from the Succeed Scholarship Program for the state and district. Students with disabilities receive funding from state, local and federal sources, but the program  only allots state foundation funding for the voucher, leaving more federal and local funding available to all other students who remain in the public school system. Additionally, the current bill funds the Succeed Scholarship outside of the Public School Fund, leaving all state funding that would have gone to these students available.

To some extent, we may see all of these areas as clear reasons why a program like the Succeed Scholarship should exist. An important concern, however, is that families must relinquish their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) while enrolled in the Succeed Scholarship program. While parents can return at any time to the public schools or even transfer to another private school participating in the program, potential negative effects exist from a school that neglecting the special needs of a student with a disability. Another concern is that the voucher amount may not cover the entire cost of tuition at a school that will meet the student’s needs, and poor families would not be able to supplement (“top up”) the voucher. This is particularly true for students with the most severe disabilities, who cost substantially more to educate. Private schools that participate cannot discriminate in their admissions process, but they can use their normal entrance requirements, including testing, interviews, and review of records. Students with academic, social/emotional, and behavioral disabilities, may be at a real disadvantage and be de facto discriminated against, limiting their true school choices.

Special education private school choice programs are often seen as a “foot in the door” for school choice laws. Once some success has been shown to the public, more laws can be passed to expand these programs. The political climate is ripe for such potential expansion, whether these programs are targeted to students from low-income households or available to all students. Eyes are on the current legislative session to see if the issue of private school choice arises once again in Arkansas. It is essential that citizens and legislators alike consider the potential costs and benefits, not just for students today but for generations to come.

Rewards and Recognition

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on December 21, 2016 at 1:33 pm

Here at the OEP, we love to see schools get recognized for excellence.  Last Friday, the Arkansas Department of Education announced the Arkansas School Recognition and Reward Program (read the commissioners memo about the program here).

The ADE rankings of schools are posted on the OEP website here and you can look to see how your school fared in the performance and growth/graduation rankings.

Show me the Money!

The program is offering almost $7 million in reward funds to 158 schools (out of 1,037 schools in the state). Education funding is not often allocated at the school-level by the state, and so this program is unique in distributing funding directly to schools, as opposed to the district-level.

Schools receive $100 per student for being in the top 5% of schools in the state and $50 per student for being in the top 6-10% of schools in the state.

Schools can spend the money on:

  • Non-recurring bonuses to faculty and staff,
  • temporary personnel to assist, maintain and improve student performance, or
  • educational equipment or materials.

A school committee including the principal, a teacher elected by the faculty, and a parent representative (as selected by the PTA or another parental involvement group) determine how the school would like to spend the funds, and the proposal must then be approved by the ADE.

There are two categories of rewards: Performance and Growth/ Graduation.

 Performance Rewards:

  • Performance awards are based on student performance on the 2015-16 state assessments in ELA and Math.

There are 51 schools in the top 5% and 52 schools between 6% and 10%:

  • 76 are elementary schools (14% of the state’s elementary schools),
  • 25 are middle and junior high schools (12%of the state’s middle and junior high schools)
  • 2 are high schools (less than 1% of the state’s high schools – only Haas Hall Fayetteville and Bentonville)

Not surprisingly, the schools rewarded for performance are less poor than the state: only 33% of students in the top 5% performance schools and 45% of students in the top 6-10% receive free-and-reduced lunch, while schools that did not receive a performance reward serve 64% FRL population.

Although there is a relationship between student performance and poverty, there isn’t a strong correlation between performance rank and student poverty.  The figure below shows the relationship between each school’s Performance Rank and % FRL.  The schools in the green box are schools identified for performance rewards as they were ranked above the 90th percentile.  On the far left side of the figure, you can see a school with a performance rank of 99 and 0% FRL.  If you look to the right side of the figure, however, you can see that a school with 80% of students eligible for FRL received a performance rank of 95. This school, College Station Elementary from PCSSD, is an example of a school where students are high performing despite academic risk factors.



As can be seen in the figure below, the Northwest and Central regions have the highest percentages of performance reward schools (48% and 32% respectively).





Growth/ Graduation Rewards:

  • Growth awards are based on school-level growth in student performance from the 2014-15 to the 2015-16 state assessments in ELA and Math.
  • For high schools, this award is based on the ranking on their 2015 graduation rate.

Growth: There are 35 schools in the top 5% and 40 schools between 6% and 10%:

  • 50 are elementary schools (9% of the state’s elementary schools),
  • 25 are middle or junior high school, in addition to a few small high schools (12% of the state’s middle and junior high schools.

Graduation: There are 15 high schools in the top 5% and 15 schools between 6% and 10% (11% of the state’s high schools).  More than half of these schools are 7-12 schools, and the average enrollment is less than 300 students.

We would expect student growth and graduation to be less correlated to student participation in FRL, and it is a little more diverse, but the schools rewarded for growth and graduation  are still less poor than the state: only 36% of students in the top 5% growth/grad schools and 49% of students in the top 6-10% receive free-and-reduced lunch, while schools that did not receive a growth/grad reward serve 63% FRL population.

The figure below shows the relationship between each school’s Growth Rank and % FRL. High schools with graduation rankings are not included in the figure, to allow better examination of the relationship between poverty and growth. The schools in the green box are schools identified for growth rewards as they were ranked above the 90th percentile.  On the far left side of the figure, you can see a school with a performance rank of 98 and 7% FRL.  If you look to the right side of the figure, however, you can see that a school with 92% of students eligible for FRL received a performance rank of 92. This school, Pine Bluff Lighthouse College Prep, is an example of a school where students are demonstrating high academic growth despite academic risk factors.



As can be seen in the figure below, the Northwest and Central regions have the highest percentages of growth/graduation reward schools (43% and 33% respectively).



Closing Thoughts:

Hooray!   Congratulations to all the schools who received awards!   We love the use of a student-level growth model to reward schools who are making strong gains with their students but may not yet be achieving the highest levels of performance.  We did find it interesting, however, that there was such overlap between the awards: only 1/4 of the schools who received an award for growth did not also receive an award for performance.

Hmmm…We are concerned that the reward money is flowing only to certain areas of the state as almost no schools in the Southwest or Southeast regions of the state received reward money for performance or growth/ graduation.

We hope that schools who didn’t receive a reward this year examine the data to see which schools that are similar to them DID.  In both the performance and growth graphic, we can see that there are schools with similar FRL % ages performing at very different levels.

We would also be interested in seeing how schools are spending the money and what impact that is having on teachers and students.

We hope you and yours enjoy the holiday and stay tuned for more analysis about student performance and growth!


House and Senate Education Committees Meeting Update

In AR Legislature on September 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm

capital pic

The education committees of the Arkansas House and Senate met jointly this week and discussed presentations on professional learning communities, Project Future Story, school health services, special education funding.


Professional Learning Communities
“Professional learning communities (PLCs) are our best hope for improving schools,” according to Dr. Robert Eaker who presented the fundamentals of PLCs to the committees on Monday. Eaker said that PLCs require three major cultural shifts in public schools: from “teaching” focus to “learning” focus; from isolated teacher planning to collaborative team planning; and from general outcomes to the learning of individual students “kid by kid, skill by skill, name by name.” Some Arkansas school districts already use PLCs, and legislators talked to Eaker about next steps for bringing the approach to more schools.


Project Future Story
Several students shared their “future stories” with the education committees, introducing themselves as seniors at Southside High School and freshmen or sophomores at UACC Batesville. Project Future Story involves a partnership among SHS, UACCB, Lyon College and Batesville area businesses that allows students to gain college credit and even work experience while in high school. SHS Superintendent Roger Rich explained that the effort is creating career opportunities for students who want to stay in or return to Independence County, and UACCB Chancellor Deborah Frazier said participants benefit from the lower cost and shorter time to degree. Lawmakers lauded the students’ accomplishments and the partnership’s work.


School Health Services
In their annual report to the education committees, the Public Schools Health Services Advisory Committee emphasized the need to employ an RN at each school campus so that districts comply with the Arkansas Nurse Practice Act. Presenters explained the wide range of chronic conditions among students and the types of procedures performed by the school health services staff. No surprise that funding was the main topic of discussion among committee members, including the appropriateness of using state NSL funds for nurses’ salaries and ideas for other funding sources.


Special Education Funding
Following up on the special education task force presentation last month, OEP’s Sivan Tuchman presented an alternative funding model using a student-based allocation that accounts for the severity of the disability and the student’s placement. Tuchman explained that funding all districts at 2.9 special education teachers per 500 students assumes all districts have the same needs; therefore, some districts get too much money while others do not get enough. Calling the student-based allocation model “a more dynamic option for funding students with disabilities,” Tuchman said the approach would meet individual student needs while reducing reliance on catastrophic aid and limiting incentives for inappropriate placements.


House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on August 24, 2016 at 1:22 pm



Arkansas House and Senate education committees met jointly this week and discussed reports on teacher supply, special education, and academic distress.

Teacher supply

“Greening and graying” are just two of the trends that Arkansas has to address in building and maintaining a diverse and experienced teacher workforce that is appropriately distributed among all schools, according to ADE Assistant Commissioner Ivy Pfeffer. Teachers with the most experience are nearing retirement age, and younger teachers are more likely to leave the profession. Types of shortages vary by region, but the rate of teacher turnover is higher in high poverty and high minority schools. Students in those schools are also more likely to have teachers with less experience or teaching out of field. Pfeffer said ADE is developing a strategic plan that includes a “coming back” campaign to recruit teachers back to the classroom, among other efforts. Pfeffer also noted several areas where ADE is conducting more in-depth examinations of data to better understand and respond to workforce issues.

Special education

A special education task force has completed its work, and Sen. Uvalde Lindsey of Fayetteville presented the group’s draft report. The task force reached consensus on 30 recommendations related to early diagnosis of disabilities; improved coordination among stakeholders; additional support for parents, teachers, and schools; and increased funding. The report was dedicated to the late Rep. Sheilla Lampkin of Monticello, a former special education teacher and diligent advocate who sponsored the enabling legislation and worked on the task force, but passed away before the report was completed.

Academic distress

Arkansas law mandates that the legislature’s ongoing study of educational adequacy must include an examination of the academic distress program for schools or school districts where academic achievement has not met a required standard for several years. The written report from the Bureau of Legislative Research gives a concise explanation of various aspects of the academic distress designation, feedback from superintendents of affected districts, and similar policies in other states. Some committee members expressed concern about the academic distress label and encouraged their peers to look at policy solutions to help schools before the designation becomes necessary and is made public.



State House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In AR Legislature on June 23, 2016 at 12:04 pm


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.

Teacher Salaries

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.



Education Committees Hear Staffing Study Report

In AR Legislature on April 13, 2016 at 12:52 pm

The House and Senate education committees met jointly yesterday and heard reports on teacher salaries and recruitment/retention issues. Salary studies are conducted routinely as a required part of the state’s ongoing adequacy study, but this is the first in-depth look at teacher recruitment and retention. Here is a recap of several key findings.

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Teacher Recruitment and Retention

To say Arkansas has a teacher shortage isn’t really accurate. A study by the Bureau of Legislative Research indicates that we probably have plenty of teachers, but not necessarily in the geographic or content areas they are needed most. Or, they aren’t teaching at all. According to this report based on several data sources:

  • Of the state’s 57,940 licensed teachers, only 33,104 were employed as teachers.
  • Content-wise, we can expect critical teacher shortages in up to 10 areas, ranging from foreign languages and library media to computer and physical sciences. ADE and districts work to address these shortages with waivers and “non-traditional” licensure, but turnover is higher for teachers in both situations.
  • Significantly fewer college students are pursuing teaching as a profession; enrollment is down by 50% since 2010. Worse, not enough of those students are preparing to teach in the content shortage areas, and the number of students preparing for non-shortage areas exceeds the available positions.
  • High-minority schools have about twice the rate of teacher turnover as low-minority schools, but high-poverty and low-poverty schools have about the same rates of turnover.
  • About 36% of Arkansas teachers leave the profession after five or fewer years, though this is lower than the national average.
  • Administrators cited compensation and credentials as their greatest challenges in recruiting and retaining teachers. Teachers mentioned compensation and the non-classroom administrative burden as obstacles to retention, though most of those surveyed were planning to stay in the profession.

The education committees meet again on Friday, May 6. The legislature’s fiscal session starts today.

State House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In AR Legislature on March 16, 2016 at 12:28 pm


An update of what we can expect from the new federal education legislation and an ongoing discussion of professional development funding occupied much of this month’s joint meeting of the Arkansas House and Senate education committees.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Some things will change and some will stay the same, but no one knows when or what to do next. Under the recently reworked and renamed federal education laws, the state must still develop challenging academic standards; conduct annual assessments of at least 95% of students; and measure academic achievement, student growth, high school graduation, and English language proficiency. The ESSA provides, however, that the Secretary of Education cannot prescribe those standards, tell states how to meet the 95% threshold or which assessments to use. The new state plan will take effect in the 2017-18 school year, and ADE is determining what steps can be taken while waiting for federal regulations to be developed. The existing state plan and waivers expire August 1st of this year. BLR attorney Isaac Linam gave the committees a succinct summary of ESSA linked here.

Professional Development (PD)

Professional development seems to come up at almost every education committee meeting. This week members discussed BLR’s reports of PD funding and expenditures in school districts and results of a survey regarding Arkansas teachers’ perceptions of PD in their schools. Legislators continue to wrestle with how much funding to allocate to districts for PD and how to ensure its effectiveness. Expect the issue to come up in next month’s fiscal session. The BLR research report is linked here.

The education committees will meet on April 11th at 1:30 pm and April 12th at 9:00 am, just prior to the start of the fiscal session. Here is a link to the meeting calendar.


Education Committees Hear Adequacy Testimony

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


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.