University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

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House and Senate Education Committees Meet

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on December 16, 2015 at 11:32 am


The Arkansas House and Senate education committees met jointly this week and spent the most time talking about how to address differences in transportation costs across school districts.

Student Transportation

Education committee members discussed the ongoing struggle to fund transportation costs equitably across school districts. The current method of per-student funding for transportation does not account for such differences as actual number of riders, population density, bus route miles, geographic terrain, and road conditions. This creates what committee members called the “haves,” those districts where transportation costs are below their funding allocations, and the “have-nots,” where high transportation costs exceed funding.

The Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) found in a 2014 study that a formula including ADM, actual riders, and daily route miles explained 98% of transportation costs, compared to ADM alone which explained 79% of costs. Despite the hard work of the education committees in the 2015 regular session to use this evidence-based formula in public school funding legislation, Act 1248 included it only in temporary language. The accompanying $3 million appropriation for supplemental funding is in Category C, which means there will not be enough time to distribute the money in 2015-16.

Committee members wrestled with whether and how to address the supplemental funding issue in the 2016 fiscal session. The committees also grappled with the possibility that dramatic changes in costs in the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts may occur after 2016-17 and alter the transportation funding landscape altogether.

Student Growth, Declining Enrollment & ELL: Topics from the Capital

In AR Legislature on October 7, 2015 at 10:51 am

ar legislature

The Arkansas House and Senate education committees met jointly this week and discussed reports of issues related to student growth, declining enrollment, and English Language Learners funding and expenditures. Reviews of these three topics are among the required elements of the state’s ongoing evaluation of education adequacy.

Student Growth and Declining Enrollment Funding

The state provides additional funding to help school districts with the financial aspects of rapidly changing enrollments. The number of districts receiving student growth funding has increased gradually since 2010, while the number receiving declining enrollment funding has decreased.  Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) analysis showed that regular instructional programs and operations/maintenance accounted for most of the expenditures of both types of funding, and fund transfers to debt service was also a significant portion of districts’ expenditures of student growth funding.

Though they may receive only one type of funding per year, some districts are eligible for growth funding and declining enrollment funding in the same year. These shifts in student population are usually tied to family employment, according to BLR Assistant Director Richard Wilson.

English Language Learners Funding

In Arkansas, about 64% of school districts receive additional funding to support students who are not proficient in English. ELL funding may be used for salaries for ELL instruction, professional development, counseling services, instructional materials, and assessment, and BLR analysis indicates that per-student expenditures exceed per-student ELL funding by about 30%. Asked if the state is underfunding ELL programs, BLR Legislative Analyst Mandy Gillip said districts can carry over funding from one year to the next and can transfer funds from other categories such as NSL state funds. Overall, state assessment scores for ELL students have improved over the past six years, and NAEP scores show less of a gap between ELL and non-ELL students in Arkansas than in other states.

Links to BLR reports:

Student Growth    Declining Enrollment      ELL

OEP researchers are finalizing an in-depth analysis of public school funding. Watch for it!

An Adequate Education: What is it and how much does it cost?

In AR Legislature on June 24, 2015 at 11:35 pm


Educational Adequacy Committee to Meet this Summer

Summertime in Arkansas… flip-flops, lemonade, beach books…adequacy study? It has been over ten years since the first meeting of Arkansas’ Educational Adequacy Committee, so we figured that now is the perfect time to share the committee’s history and what they are working towards.

The Educational Adequacy Committee was founded in 2002 as a result of the Arkansas Supreme Court case Lake View School District, No. 25 v. Huckabee. Prior to the Lake View case, local property taxes were simply collected and used to fund public schools. Therefore, schools in wealthier districts collected more money from property taxes, and schools in poorer areas had less money to contribute. As a result, districts in poor areas did not have enough funding to meet students’ basic educational needs. The judge of the Lake View case stated that, “The school funding system now in place . . . is inequitable and inadequate under . . . the Arkansas constitution,” as the state constitution mandates a “general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools.”  As a result of the Lake View ruling, the state needed to find a way to provide “adequate” funding for K-12 public education. Prior to Lake View, schools were operating with the funding made available to them—not the amount of funding needed to provide a quality education to students. Also, before the ruling, public schools were not the top funding priority. After Lake View, it was mandated that public schools be funded first, even if that meant reduced support for other state entities like prisons, hospitals, or roads.

This sounds simple enough in theory—providing every Arkansas student with an adequate education—but the word “adequate” raised an important question. What amount of money is needed to provide an adequate education and how can we determine what is this exact number? Without conducting studies to determine the amount of money schools need to spend per student, how else could Arkansas comply with the Lake View decision, and more importantly, how could it ensure that students were receiving a quality education? Arkansas decided to conduct a study to determine the exact dollar amount schools needed for each student in order to provide an adequate education.

The state contracted Lawrence O. Picus and Allan R. Odden, school finance specialists, to perform this study. Picus and Odden followed an expert based approach, where they interviewed a variety of school teachers, staff, and administrations and identified elements schools needed. Some of the different items discussed were curricula, facilities, technology, specialists, and equipment. After determining the specific components “adequate” schools provided, a ‘per student cost’ was determined based on a matrix. Picus and Odden presented this information to the state legislature in 2003-04 during the Lake View Special Session. Following Picus and Odden’s advice while simultaneously considering state budget constraints, the committee subgroup determined that K-12 public schools need foundation funding of $5,400 per student to provide an adequate education. The foundation funding is the funding floor, with categorical funds available for students with more needs. Schools with students who are English Language Learners, eligible for free/reduced lunch, or placed in an alternative learning environment are eligible for the categorical funds available at a progressive rate.

The Educational Adequacy Committee continues to meet regularly to ensure that the foundation funding per student, ($6,521 currently), and the categorical funds (funds for students with additional needs), continue to meet the costs of providing students with a quality education, accounting for inflation and changes in the costs of services over time. If you are interested in additional information about the funding formula, check out our 2008 AR Education Report on School Finance.

The 2012-14 adequacy study report submitted last November represented data obtained from district and school administrators and educators, state education agencies, educational advocacy organizations, and task forces on specific topics. The process included 65 presenters in 25 meetings and dozens of reports. The education committees evaluate progress on recommendations from the most recent adequacy report and address any other adequacy related issues prior to each fiscal session, making the study a continuous process. (See the Bureau of Legislative Research website for more information.)  For more information about educational adequacy, see our 2012 report.

Perhaps because of the continued focus on adequacy, Arkansas is 1 of just 26 states in the U.S. that ensure educational equity based on school funding. While ensuring educational adequacy can be both a difficult and controversial process, it is certainly a vital one.

A Few Additions to the 2015 Legislative Summary…

In AR Legislature on April 22, 2015 at 10:28 am


Here are highlights of several new laws not mentioned in the 2015 Legislative Summary policy brief published last week on the OEP website.

School board elections. SB968 (Act 1281) gives school districts the choice of holding annual school elections on the third Tuesday in September or on the day of the general election in November. While some legislators expressed concern that board members could use the law to steer the outcome of elections, proponents said the bill gives school districts the flexibility they have requested for several years. Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) sponsored the bill.

Union membership. HB1957 (Act 964) gives public school employees the flexibility to join or leave labor organizations at any time. Labor organizations and employers may not place any restrictions on a term for membership. Rep. Grant Hodges (R-Rogers) sponsored the legislation.

Academic distress. SB858 (Act 1272) sponsored by Sen. Eddie Cheatham (D-Crossett) allows certain schools to be exempt from academic distress classification, including public schools designated as alternative learning environments (ALE) and charter schools focused on students at risk of dropping out of school. Act 1272 gives authority to the state education board to develop criteria for granting the exemption.

Special education. HB1485 (Act 839) establishes a legislative task force on best practices in special education. While members of the Senate Committee on Education lamented the overuse of task forces in recent years, they agreed with bill sponsor and former special education teacher Rep. Sheilla Lampkin (D-Monticello) on the significance of this work. Act 839 outlines the work of the task force, member selection, and reporting requirements.

Concealed carry. HB1505 (Act 1078) removes some restrictions on possessing a handgun on public property, including public school parking lots and drop-off zones. The new law allows the holder of a “concealed carry” license to have a handgun in their vehicle as they drop off or pick up children at school, and to leave the handgun in their locked, unattended vehicle in a school parking lot. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Michelle Gray (R-Melbourne) and heard by the House and Senate judiciary committees rather than the education committees.

The House and Senate education committees will begin their monthly joint meetings on June 8 and 9.

Legislative Summary: Education Policy in the 2015 General Session

In AR Legislature, The View from the OEP on April 17, 2015 at 2:43 pm


The 2015 legislative session will formally adjourn next week, but most of the hard work wrapped up on April 9. The policy brief that OEP published today highlights the major pieces of K-12 legislation that passed through the House and Senate education committees in the past few weeks. In reflecting on the conversations from these meetings and the issues described in the brief, we thought about at least three dynamics working beneath the surface of education policy: its personal nature, its connection between our past and future, and its role in the larger scheme.

Personal nature. The formalities of policymaking can seem cold and impersonal. Bills are written according to strict standards to pass legal muster. Floor debates and committee discussions follow formal, orderly procedures. Sitting (or standing) in the audience, though, brings to mind that education policy is intensely personal.

Education policy is about us and the people we love. We remember learning to write our names in cursive, memorizing important dates in history, and penciling in the bubble sheet of a standardized test. Our lives revolve around our children’s daily achievements and struggles, sometimes taking place in the same classrooms where we sat back in the day. Education policy is personal to the legislator who recalls her mother teaching 3rd grade and taking tickets at ballgames, her father coaching and driving the bus. It’s personal to the parent who goes to the school each day to personally give medication to his child.

Connecting past and future. Education policy ties together where we’ve been and where we’re going. Students today need to be able to read the original Declaration of Independence penned in cursive and have proficient keyboarding skills to take tests electronically. School nurses still put Band-Aids® on scraped knees, but they also administer life-saving medications, suction feeding tubes, and monitor students with eating disorders. Students who learn to weld in shop class may well put the skill to use in a high-paying job that’s part of the global economy. These examples and more came up in recent education committee meetings.

The larger scheme. Like many parts of our lives, policy content is divided into categories and examined in isolation. We couldn’t help but notice in the policy brief, though, how many education bills pertain to health, community prosperity, and job creation and preparation. Education, economic development, and public health are interwoven systems that we tend to address separately and expect to work in synchrony.

As you read the 2015 Legislative Summary, consider education policy for its personal nature, its connection of past to future, and its place in the larger scheme, along with your own observations.

News From The Capitol: March 30, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 30, 2015 at 1:21 pm


The House and Senate education committees met this morning in a final push to move bills out of committee for consideration by the their respective bodies before the legislature’s Good Friday break. Below is a summary of those bills related to K-12 education policy.

House Committee on Education

Academic Distress Exemption
Senate Bill 858 would allow the state education board to exempt from the academic distress classification those schools that exist to serve at-risk students. The bill passed.

Charter School Facilities
Sen. Alan Clark presented SB847 to establish a reclamation process through the Academic Facilities Distress Program so that open enrollment public charter schools could access unused school buildings on the brink of decline. Representatives of AAEA and ASBA oppose the bill, citing too much authority given to the Director of the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation and the lack of mechanisms for local school board input and appeals. The bill failed. (The bill came up again in an afternoon meeting of the House education committee and failed a second time.)

Civics Competency
Senate Bill 878 to require that all students pass the US citizenship civics test as a condition of high school graduation was presented for a second hearing and failed again.

Senate Committee on Education

Kindergarten Early Admission
Rep. Jana Della Rosa presented HB1539 to allow a parent whose child’s fifth birthday occurs between August 1 and September 1 to petition for the child’s early admission to kindergarten. The bill provided that schools must have space available at the end of the first week of school for an early admission request to be granted. Della Rosa contended that the lack of flexibility in current policy is unfair to those children who are ready for kindergarten at this age, especially since the state allows the transfer to kindergarten of similarly situated children from other states. A spokesperson for AAEA opposed the bill, since schools would be required to admit the child if space is available. The bill failed for lack of a second to the Do Pass motion.

Lottery Scholarship
Sen. Jimmy Hickey presented HB1779 to allow lottery scholarship recipients who enter college with 27 hours or more of concurrent credit to receive the scholarship amount awarded to sophomores. The bill provides that the regulation would take effect in the 2016-17 school year but students entering college in 2015-16 may contact the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to request consideration if the bill becomes law. The bill passed.

Resource Officer Jurisdiction
Sen. Blake Johnson presented HB1583 to broaden the jurisdiction in which school resource officers (SRO) may issue citations or make arrests. Current law limits SROs’ authority when traveling with a school group and any problems must be handled by a nearby law enforcement agency. When a spokesperson for Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) opposed the bill because of concerns that SROs’ misuse of authority sends children to the juvenile court system, committee members pointed out that the bill also allows the officers to cite or arrest adults. The bill passed without opposition.

News From The Capitol: March 27, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 27, 2015 at 6:37 pm


The Senate Committee on Education met this afternoon and discussed several bills with implications for K-12. The most vigorous discussions related to bills on national school lunch state categorical funding and teaching American History.

NSL State Funding
Sen. Joyce Elliott presented SB851 that would narrow the list of uses for NSL state funds. Elliott acknowledged that her intent was not to ask the committee to vote on a specific list today but to put education stakeholders on notice to begin looking for replacement funds. She said that two adequacy studies could not determine the impact that NSL funds are having on closing the achievement gap for children from low-income families because the money is distributed across so many programs. A spokesperson for Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) concurred, saying the agency’s research into the effectiveness of the state’s $220 million investment has been inconclusive due to the breadth of spending. Elliott reminded committee members that OEP, Picus Odden, and the Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) all have recommended that the legislature focus on the intent of the NSL funds to address the achievement gap by paring the list of allowable uses. Committee members agreed that difficult choices are necessary. Elliott pulled the bill and referred it for interim study.

History Lessons
Sen. Linda Collins-Smith presented SB1007 (amended) to provide more coverage of American history in social studies and history classes in grades 7-12. Collins-Smith expressed concern that students receive only limited exposure to important periods in history that shaped our nation. Some committee members agreed that more class time should be devoted to history, and Debbie Jones of ADE explained the arduous work of the curriculum committee in determining how best to cover the growing body of material. After much discussion, the bill passed.

These bills also passed in committee today: HB1623 to increase the minimum salary schedule for teachers, HB1991 to provide a duty-free, uninterrupted 30-minute lunch period for full time classified school employees, HB1552 to establish a private school option for students with disabilities who are not learning in public schools.

Both the House and Senate education committees meet on Monday, March 30, at 10 a.m.

News From The Capitol: March 26, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 26, 2015 at 7:22 pm


The House Committee on Education met this morning to hear several bills with K-12 implications. The committee did not meet as planned this afternoon because of the House of Representatives’ lengthy agenda.

Transparency in Takeover
Rep. Clark Tucker brought back HB1605 that would ensure the same level of transparency exists whether the state education board or the local school board controls a school district. He said that if the state board contracts with a private entity for management, the third party’s work should be subject to freedom-of-information laws. Tucker asserted that the bill codifies existing case law so that all parties are aware of the requirements “on the front end” of a district takeover. The bill passed.

Civics Competency
Senate Bill 878 sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert and presented by Rep. Bruce Cozart generated some of the liveliest discussion of the day. The bill would require that all students pass the US citizenship civics test as a condition of high school graduation. Several committee members agreed with Cozart that adults’ knowledge of the nation’s governing system is lacking. Others questioned the need for the test and even speculated that the bill is an attempt to embarrass students who are immigrants. Two of the teachers attending the meeting during their spring break spoke against SB878, saying the test would not have the intended result and the bill’s language is too vague. The bill failed in a roll call vote.

Teacher Licensure Option
Sen. Blake Johnson presented SB744 to add a non-traditional pathway to teacher licensure for persons with significant experience in a content area and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. The bill’s purpose is to enhance the pool of highly qualified teachers. American Board of Certification for Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) board member Frank Attkisson said the ABCTE would work with ADE to develop the option for Arkansas, and an ADE spokesperson explained how the process would work. The bill passed without opposition.

Student Re-engagement
Sen. Joyce Elliott presented SB212 to establish a re-engagement system so that students 16-21 years of age who have completed less than one-half the credits for graduation may earn a diploma. Elliott called the bill an opportunity “to recapture students we have lost” and put them on a path to a career or further education. Students may still be in school or can reconnect with their high school and will work with a counselor to develop an individualized plan. The bill passed.

Dyslexia Legislation
Intense discussion also accompanied SB788 presented by Sen. Joyce Elliott and aimed at addressing issues encountered by schools in implementing the 2013 dyslexia legislation, Act 1294. Elliott prefaced her explanation of the bill by imploring committee members to believe their constituents who say their schools are proactively obstructing efforts to follow this law. “We still have work to do back in our districts to be sure our students are being helped,” Elliott said, but she also recognized the many districts that have good programs. She said the bill is an attempt to clarify parts of the law that have caused confusion, with criteria specified for training and definitions added for staff roles. Parents and teachers gave passionate testimony against the bill, calling it a step backward and an effort to water down the existing law. Elliott closed by saying the problem is a lack of enforcement of the law, not the bill itself. The bill passed with one opposed.

The Senate Committee on Education meets tomorrow at 9:00 a.m.

News From The Capitol: March 25, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 25, 2015 at 6:25 pm


The Senate Committee on Education met this morning and voted on several bills with K-12 implications. This afternoon’s meeting was cancelled because of the Senate’s lengthy agenda.

Ads on Buses
Sen. Jim Hendren presented HB1495 to permit school boards to allow advertising on school buses. The bill tasks the Commission for Arkansas Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation with developing the guidelines and provides that school boards may use the revenue generated from advertising for transportation purposes only. The bill passed after committee members were assured the advertising would not divert attention in a way that would interfere with safety.

Academic Distress Exemption
Sen. Eddie Cheatham presented SB858 to allow the state education board to exempt from the academic distress classification those schools that exist to serve at-risk students. The bill passed without opposition.

Waivers for School Districts
Rep. Reginald Murdock presented HB1377 that would allow school districts to apply for the same waivers granted to open-enrollment charter schools that draw from their districts. Noting “one size does not fit all,” Murdock explained that districts need some flexibility to work with their specific student populations. He cited extended school days and the ability to hire an outstanding but non-certified teacher as examples of waivers that would help improve student achievement in traditional public schools. Murdock addressed two of the common arguments against the bill, saying the intent is neither to dilute the standards nor to eliminate fair dismissal of teachers. A representative of AAEA offered support for the bill; an AEA spokesperson said the bill “waives services that students deserve.” The bill passed unopposed. [Link to OEP policy brief on HB1377.]

Partnership Plan Review
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1913 to amend state law regarding application for public school facilities funding. HB1913 provides for timely receipt of a written copy of partnership application review conference findings from ADE’s Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation. A district that wants a review conference must make the request at least 60 days before the application deadline and will receive the Division’s findings in time to address any issues. Ft. Smith Superintendent Benny Gooden said the new language would prevent districts’ applications being denied for minor technicalities. The bill passed without opposition.

Sick Leave
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1597 to clarify the policy on accumulated sick leave when teachers transfer from one district to another. The bill specifies that credit for unused sick leave transfers with the teacher, as long as the former school district submits documentation of the leave. The bill seeks to prevent situations in which teachers may not be paid for accumulated sick leave upon retirement. The bill passed without opposition.

Dating Violence
Rep. Douglas also presented HB1685 to require teaching dating violence awareness in health classes for grades 7-12. Douglas stressed the importance of understanding dating violence as a type of bullying and a precursor to domestic violence. The topic is already part of the curriculum but often skipped. The bill specifies teaching the material in October for fall courses and February for spring courses to align with national awareness campaigns. The bill passed without opposition.

School Nurses
Rep. Julie Mayberry presented two bills on public school health services. The bills stem from findings contained in a Public School Health Services Advisory Committee report. HB1442 provides for the advisory committee to continue its work and requires that results of each district’s annual school health report be shared with their school board. HB1443 specifies the minimum requirements for a school nursing center in new buildings and establishes a pilot program for grants to improve existing facilities. Both bills passed without opposition. [HB1444 to modify requirements for nursing staff to include an RN supervisor in each district failed in the House education committee.]

The Senate Committee on Education meets again on Friday morning. The House education committee meets tomorrow morning and afternoon.

News From The Capitol: March 24, 2015

In AR Legislature on March 24, 2015 at 8:40 pm


The House Committee on Education met twice today and voted on several K-12 related bills.

Students with Disabilities
Rep. Douglas House presented HB1552 to establish the Succeed Scholarship Program for students with disabilities who may not be thriving in a traditional public school setting. House said that most children with disabilities are successful with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), but this bill provides a private school option for those whose needs go unmet. Foundation funds would not be used; a separate budget item would be established for the 2016-17 school year. Committee members expressed concern about how the private schools would be held accountable for their use of state funds. Several organizations’ representatives spoke against the bill, citing the lack of specificity on curriculum, staff credentials, and accreditation standards; the potential for abuse of the system; and the fiscal impact on the state. After a lengthy discussion, bill passed unopposed.

Resource Officer Jurisdiction
Rep. Bill Gossage presented HB1583 to broaden the jurisdiction in which school resource officers may issue citations or make arrests. Current law limits resource officers’ authority when traveling with a school group, and any problems must be handled by a nearby law enforcement agency. AAEA supported the bill, with a spokesperson explaining that a student group may have a lengthy wait in an isolated area before police arrive. An Arkansas Advocates for Children & Families (AACF) representative opposing the bill said, “This is yet another way to force juvenile courts to deal with school discipline issues.” After extensive discussion, the bill passed.

Anonymous Bullying
Rep. Charlotte Douglas presented HB1683 to address issues with anonymous bullying through electronic means. The bill provides school districts with a legal avenue to obtain the name on the account used for bullying. HB1683 passed through committee without opposition.

Duty-Free Lunch
Rep. Charlotte Douglas also presented HB1991 to provide a 30-minute, uninterrupted duty-free lunch period for full time classified school employees, except in emergency situations. Employees who miss their duty-free lunch periods will be paid their hourly rate. The bill passed unopposed.

NSL Funding Uses
Rep. Charles Armstrong presented HB1958 that would direct 2% of national school lunch state categorical funds to grants to support after-school and summer programs. Committee members and organizational representatives discussed whether the bill is at odds with adequacy laws and how other district programs may suffer from the loss of funding. AACF and Arkansas Public Policy Panel representatives spoke for the bill, citing the efficacy of after-school and summer programs and the bill’s alignment with the original intent of NSL funding. Ultimately, the bill failed.

The Senate Committee on Education met yesterday after the Senate adjourned, and a sizeable audience waited for the late afternoon discussion of dyslexia policy.

Dyslexia Policy
Sen. Joyce Elliott presented SB788 aimed at addressing some difficulties school districts have encountered in implementing dyslexia legislation, Act 1294 of 2013. She explained that the bill clarifies the titles, roles, and training requirements for staff; specifies the criteria for instruction; and modifies the makeup of the committee responsible for the Arkansas Dyslexia Resource Guide. Elliott commended the school districts doing a good job with dyslexia programming but said “some have been inexplicably obstructionist” and should be held accountable. Following testimony from various stakeholders, the bill passed without opposition.