A school funding overhaul bill filed in the state Capitol

A bill introduced Friday would change the way public schools in Arkansas are funded and create a new formula for how districts receive money from the state.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, would more heavily weigh factors such as district size, population density and poverty. The state’s funding formula is based on a school district of 500 students and provides guidelines for how much school districts should spend on teacher salaries, transportation and facilities, among other things. School districts currently receive money on a per-pupil basis.

Cozart said the proposed formula would create a fairer system that would provide more resources to schools that need them, he said.

“Some schools are really going bandits … and some schools are really suffering,” Cozart said of the current funding model.

As part of the proposed funding formula, schools would receive additional funding for each student who is economically disadvantaged, lives in a small district, is in a sparsely populated area or experiences concentrated poverty.

The bill also includes direct funding for certain programs, such as fourth-graders struggling in English or career and technical programs. Finally, the bill includes a “Student Outcomes Incentive,” additional funding for school districts with higher numbers of students who have special needs, are on the federal lunch program, or are learning English as a second language.

How each of these factors will be weighted will be determined by legislators in the future. Lawmakers will take up funding for the 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 school years when they return from recess next week. If passed, Cozart’s bill would not go into effect until the 2025-2026 school year.

READ ALSO -  This WA brewery serves the best beer in the state, says Yelp

Every two years, lawmakers from the House and Senate Education Committees vote on public school funding recommendations, part of a mandated process that was put in place after the state Supreme Court’s decision in Lake View School District v. Huckabee in 2002.

Since then, lawmakers have been required to meet out of session and hold public hearings on how to adequately fund public education, ultimately resulting in the per-pupil each school will receive each of the next two years. Funding per student for the 2023-2024 school year is $7,413.

Dennis Copeland, director of the Arkansas Rural Ed Association, said he has some concerns about whether the state will end the current funding formula and whether future school funding will be sustainable.

“It’s a little scary because they’ve worked so hard and for so long to get where they are,” Copeland said.

Copeland said he spoke with Cozart and said he agreed with putting a greater emphasis on school size in the state’s funding formula, saying, “I think that’s probably a good thing, especially for smaller schools.”

On Thursday, Rep. Brian Evans, R-Cabot, introduced a bill calling for a 2.8% increase in public school funding. If confirmed, per-student foundation funding would increase by $205 to $7,618 for the 2023-2024 school year. By the 2024-2025 school year, the legislation calls for per-student funding to increase to $7,771.

The proposal is less than the $8,129 the House and $8,150 Senate committees recommended in November for the entire course of foundation funding for the 2023-2024 school year.

“The governor is proud of the historic investments in education that he and the Legislature worked together to make this session,” Alexa Henning, a spokeswoman for Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “Arkansas LEARNS and the increase in foundation funding demonstrate the commitment of the Governor and Legislature to improve education in Arkansas through bold and conservative reforms.”

Follow WT LOCAL on Social Media for the Latest News and Updates.
Share this news on your Facebook,Twitter and Whatsapp.

READ ALSO -  Higher education bill prohibits Ohio employees and workers from striking

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter