The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2003 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
The Arkansas legislature and Gov. Mike Huckabee allocated $104 million in new aid for school facilities in the next biennium, but school districts were still left dissatisfied because they did not get an increase in per-pupil allocations for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Altogether, K-12 schools received $2.3 billion for fiscal 2006, or 2 percent over the current fiscal year. Arkansas passes a two-year budget, and funding for schools will reach $2.4 billion in fiscal 2007.
“I think we did very well,” said Kenneth James, the director of the Arkansas Department of Education. “As you look at what the state has done this year and last year, it is the most money education has ever had in the state of Arkansas.”
But others found the budget disappointing.
“We did not do as well as we’d hoped,” said Dan Farley, executive director of the Arkansas School Boards Association. He said that even the facilities funding was just a “small foray,” given that the actual need, according to some studies, was between $2 billion and $4 billion.
While per-pupil aid received a $12.4 million hike to reach a total of $3.48 billion for the biennium, the increase will not kick in until July 2006. Until then, the per-student amount will remain an average of $5,400 in the upcoming fiscal year. In protest, a number of school districts have filed appeals in the Arkansas Supreme Court, asking it to retake control of the state school system. In 2002, the court ruled that Arkansas’ funding of public schools was inadequate and inequitable. (“Court Orders Arkansas To Fix K-12 Funding,” Dec. 4, 2002.)
The state also added $70 million over two years to subsidize school district employee health insurance—funds that were sorely needed, Mr. Farley said. Last year, the state had provided just $1.4 million for employee health insurance. Employees and their employers also pay in to the accounts.