According to a new costing-out study, Arkansas needs to spend an additional $848.3 million to provide an adequate education for its K-12 students. This amount is 30 percent more than the state spent on K-12 last year. Currently, Arkansas spends an average of $5,568 per pupil, the fourth lowest amount in the country. Some recommendations from the study were: lower teacher-student ratios, higher teacher salaries, and preschool education. The Arkansas Joint Legislative Committee on Education Adequacy commissioned the study.
The study’s findings were broken down into five themes:
1. Providing adequate funding
2. Closing the achievement gap
3. Ensuring accountability for results, including performance pay for teachers
4. Emphasis on early intervention
5. All proposals are evidence based, using research on what works
Most of the additional spending recommended in the report was directed toward teachers. The report called for $224.6 million for “evidence-based policies.” This money would go toward reducing teacher-student ratios to 15-to-1 in grades K-3 and 25-to-1 in all other grades. It would also provide for extra teachers in schools with high enrollments of low-income children and English-language learners.
The study also recommended $356 million for higher teacher salaries. Of that total, $183 million would be spent on a 10 percent teacher pay raise in an effort to make Arkansas teacher salaries comparable to their counterparts in surrounding states. Teacher incentives, or “adders,” of $94 million in total would be used to encourage teachers to work in “less desirable geographic areas,” and in subject areas where there are shortages of qualified teachers. In addition, teachers with graduate degrees would receive additional salary.
Other recommendations included $100 million for pre-kindergarten for all three- and four-year olds from families whose income is twice the federal poverty level or lower and $167.7 million in supplements to the current funding formula. This supplement would pay school districts that are unable to raise enough money to pay for their programs because of caps on property taxes.
Arkansas lawmakers readily admit that the study recommendations cannot be fully implemented and largely view the study as a wish list. “We’re going to have to prioritize…and try to keep moving up as quickly as we can without creating a taxpayer revolt,” Sen. Brenda B. Gullett, the vice chairwoman of the Arkansas Senate education committee told Education Week.
To his credit, Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) has proposed $368 million in new funding for education that includes lowering class sizes to 20 in grades K-3 and to 25 in other grades. He would also add professional development and performance bonuses for teachers and increased spending on preschool. The package would be paid for by a 1 percent increase in the state sales tax.
The complete report is available at: http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/data/education/FinalArkansasReport.pdf