Only a couple of education bills caught my eye this week. All in all, with the legislature more concerned about abortions and guns than ever before, this session has been pretty quite with regards to education.
HB1528 – This bill designates the Department of Education as the “authorizer” of charter schools in the state. If enacted, this will place all charter applications, renewals, and modifications in the hands of a five member charter authorizing panel, appointed by the Commissioner, and made up of Department of Education staff. The State Board of Education can review the decisions of the Department, should the Board decide to do so. This is in stark contrast to the Charter School Commission bill, which I talked about here, filed at the beginning of the session. From what I hear, that bill is dead.
SB508 – This bill amends how school districts may spend their NSLA funding. For anyone not familiar with this program, NSLA stands for National School Lunch Act, but the program has nothing to do with the national act. We call this NSLA funding because we use the national standard to determine which students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but the funding comes from state general revenue, not the federal government. Under the program school districts are allotted a certain amount per NSLA qualifying pupil, and the amount per pupil increases as the percentage of qualifying students in a particular school district increases. NSLA funding is sometimes referred to as poverty funding. Currently, districts may only spend their NSLA funds on certain programs intended to close the achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students. There is a general concern, though, that some districts aren’t using this funding in effective ways. This bill categorizes the allowable programs as follows:
- Before and after-school programs;
- Pre-K programs;
- Tutors, teachers’ aides, counselors, social workers, nurses, and curriculum specialists;
- Expenses related to funding a longer school day or year;
- College remediation;
- The Arkansas Advanced Initiative for Math and Science;
- School health clinics (new);
- Behavior improvement and support programs (new);
- Certain types of technology (new).
- Teachers (to a certain extent);
- Parent education;
- Early intervention materials;
- Certain supplies;
- Teach for America teachers;
- Federal child nutrition programs.
The bill specifies that 60% of a school district’s NSLA funding must be spent on Category 1 programs. If a school in the district is identified as being a focus school, a priority school, or one in academic distress, then 75% of the district’s funding must be spent on Category 1 programs.
This is an attempt at increasing the effectiveness of the funding, and I agree that something must be done. At last check, the state spends approximately $190 million on the program annually, yet we still have so many students not achieving at the desired level, especially in poor areas.