Federal

Reporter’s Notebook

February 25, 2004 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School Aid Challenges at Heart Of Conference for State Lawmakers

State leaders are eager to find solutions to lawsuits claiming that K-12 funding is inadequate.

With half of states either fighting such a lawsuit or seeking a court-ordered remedy to one, legislators and other state officials brought their search for answers to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ annual school finance seminar, held here Feb. 13-15.

Arkansas legislators told the audience about their new school financing law and reviewed several ingredients that they hope will keep the state out of court for the first time in 20 years.

The day before the conference began, Arkansas Gov. Mick Huckabee signed a measure that will pump $400 million into elementary and secondary education—a 13 percent increase over current funding in the state’s current two-year budget. Legislators crafted the law in response to a 2002 state supreme court decision declaring school funding in the state inequitable and inadequate.

Arkansas’ legislative solution protects the state from future lawsuits because it puts enough money into schools and includes safeguards to ensure the state continues to pay for schools at an adequate level, according to state Sen. Dave Bisbee. The Republican chairs the legislative task force that addresses educational adequacy.

Legislators raised the $400 million to pay for the K-12 increase by hiking the state sales tax and instituting a mix of taxes on services and corporations.

While that amount is about half of what a panel of school finance experts suggested Arkansas needs to spend to adequately finance its schools, legislators have gathered enough evidence to refute their assumptions, Mr. Bisbee told a session on the conference’s first day. “We can show clearly the rationale and the reasoning” for scaling back the experts’ recommendations, Mr. Bisbee said.

To ensure such spending levels continue in the future, a new Arkansas legislative panel will review state spending and schools’ needs before the legislature convenes in its biennial session next year. The panel will recommend how much the state needs to pay for K-12 education in order to meet the state high court’s Dec. 2002 decision declaring state spending inadequate.

“Adequacy is so fluid you have to review it,” Mr. Bisbee said. “We’ll have an ongoing revision of what is adequate so we don’t get behind the courts.”

Once the legislature sets that spending level, it won’t change. A clause in the spending bill will protect K- 12 spending from cuts during the middle of the state’s two-year budget cycle. If revenues are below projections, the governor is required to cut other state agencies instead.

“Education will get 100 percent funding,” said Mr. Bisbee, who also chairs of the legislature’s joint budget committee. “They have no choice. They have to take it from other agencies.”

Even the legislators’ procrastination will work in their favor, he maintained. After the Arkansas legislators missed the court’s Dec. 31 deadline to adequately finance the state’s schools, the court appointed a “special master” to oversee the legislature’s work.

“We’re the only state in the nation where the court is going to have to have buy-in,” Mr. Bisbee said.

The special master, who has not yet been appointed, is going to either have to say: “‘Yes, you are constitutional,’ or ‘No you’re not constitutional’ and then we can fix it,” Mr. Bisbee said.

While state legislators face the long-term questions of how to finance schools adequately, they say they’re also struggling to pay for tasks required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

When a supporter of the law outlined research during the NCSL conference that suggested that states would have federal funds left over after meeting all of the law’s requirements, the lawmakers here appeared skeptical.

According to a study conducted by a Washington policy group, states would be able to pay for the law’s requirements over its seven-year life with federal money and still have $5 billion in federal grants left over.

AccountabilityWorks, which produced the study for the Education Leaders Council, used cautious assumptions when estimating how much it would cost states to meet federal requirements for hiring highly qualified teachers, developing tests, and providing school choice to students in low-performing schools, explained Theodor Rebarber, the president of the research group. But legislators in the audience questioned Mr. Rebarber’s work. For example, the report says states could spend half of their grants from the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to pay for services under the No Child Left Behind law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“We’re using all that IDEA money just to keep up with the cost of special education,” Minnesota Sen. Steve Kelly told Mr. Rebarber in the session. If the study left out special education funding from the total available to states, the surplus federal money would probably disappear, Mr. Kelly said in an interview after the session.

Mr. Rebarber defended the report, saying that the No Child Left Behind law and the IDEA share the common goal of improving student achievement.

“We think it’s legitimate to include [special education money] because the purposes [of the two laws] overlap,” he said in response to Mr. Kelly.

—David J. Hoff

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal What Is a School Shooting? Members of Congress Seek a Federal Definition, Reliable Data
A new bill would direct federal departments to track data related to school shootings, a term for which there is no federal definition.
Daniela Altimari, Hartford Courant
4 min read
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021. Newport News police Chief Steve Drew said two students were shot and taken to the hospital and neither injury was thought to be life-threatening. The chief said authorities believe the suspect and victims knew one another but did not provide details.
Police respond to the scene of a shooting at Heritage High School in Newport News, Va., on Saturday Sept. 20, 2021.
John C. Clark/AP Photo
Federal Is the Justice Dept. Silencing Parents or Stepping Up to Protect Educators?
Merrick Garland's move to use the FBI to help protect school officials from violence and harassment has drawn anger and praise.
5 min read
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine Texas's abortion law, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Tom Williams/Pool via AP
Federal Don't Use Federal COVID Aid to Undermine School Mask Rules, U.S. Treasury Tells Governor
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey violated the intent of COVID aid programs by using them to discourage school mask mandates, an agency letter says.
2 min read
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey speaks at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Nov. 30, 2020. A program announced by Arizona's Republican governor last month to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to school mask requirements has seen a surge of applications, with twice as many either completed or started than can be funded with the $10 million in federal coronavirus relief cash he earmarked for the program.
A program announced by Arizona's Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in September earmarks federal money to give private school vouchers to students whose parents object to public school mask requirements.
Ross D. Franklin/AP
Federal Districts Would Have to Show Equity for High-Poverty Schools Under Proposed Biden Rule
The U.S. Department of Education says the move would promote transparency and accountability for schools getting COVID-19 aid.
4 min read
Illustration of a helping hand with dollar bill bridging economy gap during coronavirus pandemic, assisting business people to overcome financial difficulties.
Feodora Chiosea/iStock/Getty Images Plus