Friday, July 20, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas will hold its annual sales tax holiday on Saturday, August 4, and Sunday, August 5.
Clothing and footwear that cost less than $100 per item will qualify for the exemption. However, if you buy an item that costs more than $100 you must pay the state and local sales taxes on the entire amount.
Accessories costing less than $50 qualify for the exemption.  Examples include wallets, watches, jewelry, sunglasses, handbags, cosmetics, briefcases, hair notions, wigs and hair pieces.
Here’s an example provided by the Department of Finance and Administration: a person buys two shirts for $50 each, a pair of jeans for $75 and a pair of shoes for $125.  The sales tax will only be collected on the shoes.  Even though the total price of the shirts and the jeans added up to $175, no sales tax will be collected on them because each individual item cost less than $100.
School supplies also qualify, including binders, book bags, calculators, tape, paper, pencils, scissors, notebooks, folders and glue.
Textbooks, reference books, maps, globes and workbooks will be exempt from sales taxes.  Also exempt from the sales tax will be art supplies needed for art class, such as clay and glazes, paint, brushes and drawing pads.
Bathing suits and beach wear will be exempt as long as they cost less than $100 per item. Diapers and disposable diapers will not be taxed.  Boots, including steel-toed boots, slippers, sneakers and sandals will be exempt from the sales tax as well.
Not exempt from the sales tax are sporting goods, such as cleats and spikes worn by baseball, soccer and football players.  Recreational items such as skates, shoulder pads, shin guards and ski boots will be taxed.  
Computers, software and computer equipment are not exempt and you will have to pay sales taxes if you purchase those items on the holiday.
Act 757 provides that the sales tax holiday will be the first weekend of August every year.  All retail stores are required to participate and may not legally collect any state or local sales taxes on qualified items during the tax holiday.
The legislature created the sales tax holiday by approving Act 757 of 2011.  One of the goals of the act is to help families with children in school, which is why it is commonly known as the “Back to School” sales tax holiday.  
However, everyone benefits from the holiday, whether or not they have children in school.
Veterans Nursing Home
The Arkansas State Veterans Home at North Little Rock, which opened last year, has 96 beds and about 70 are occupied.
At a recent meeting of the Arkansas Veterans Commission, officials discussed the need to fill the remaining beds so that the nursing home’s budget is not under strain.
The facility is a residential setting that consists of eight individual homes that each house 12 veterans. Each veteran has a private room and bathroom.
The architectural design at North Little Rock is rare for a long term care facility. Only one percent of nursing homes in the country are similarly designed. It is meant to differ from conventional designs that are more institutional, so that residents are encouraged to socialize.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas lottery set a record for ticket sales in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, and will generate almost $92 million for college scholarships.
            When the Higher Education Department awards Academic Challenge Scholarships in the fall, the number of scholarships provided by lottery ticket sales will exceed 300,000. Since Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment to establish a state lottery, $781 million has been generated for the scholarship program.
            The lottery first began selling tickets in September of 2009. At the end of June, there were 1,926 retailers in Arkansas selling lottery tickets.
            The funding for scholarships was generated by almost $500 million in ticket sales. The actual amount of $499,704,976 was a record for the Arkansas lottery.
            Instant ticket sales, such as scratch-offs, were a record total of $407.6 million for the fiscal year. That is a record for instant tickets.
Sales of tickets for draw games, such as Powerball and Mega Millions, were $92.1 million. That is the second highest. The record was set in 2016, when sales spiked because of widespread interest in a Powerball prize of more than $1 billion.
            The lottery paid $342 million in prizes, also a record amount for Arkansas. It was $27 million more than the amount paid to winners in 2012, the year with the second-highest payout in prizes.
            Since it began, the lottery has sold about $3.9 billion in tickets and paid out more than $2.6 billion in prizes. Retailers that sell lottery tickets have made $224 million in commissions.
            Last year prizes made up 67.9 percent of the lottery’s distribution of revenue. Scholarships were 19 percent, commissions to retailers was 5.6 percent, gaming costs was 4.2 percent and sales and administration was 3.2 percent.
            The lottery began a new branding campaign in March, entitled “This Is Winning,” to highlight the various types of games and prizes. It includes 30-second television spots, outdoor ads such as billboards and posters that are placed in retail stores. Also, the promotional campaign has digital advertisements for the lottery on online, such as on social media. The lottery website is more accessible to mobile phones.
            The campaign features interviews with lottery winners and scholarship recipients, focusing on winning has changed their lives.
Medical Marijuana
            The Medical Marijuana Commission announced the five businesses that will get initial licenses to cultivate marijuana. The announcement came very soon after the state Supreme Court lifted an injunction, issued by a lower court, which had held up the process of awarding licenses.
            Voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana and creating the commission to regulate cultivation and retail sales. Five companies were selected from the 98 applicants. One of the unsuccessful applicants filed a legal challenge that brought the process to a halt when a circuit judge ruled that there were flaws in the selection process.
            The commission also must award licenses to 32 dispensaries, and has received 230 applications. So far, the Health Department has issued more than 5,500 cards to patients certifying that they have one of the 18 qualifying conditions that will allow them to purchase medical marijuana.
            Observers expect further legal challenges.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas School Safety Commission presented its initial list of recommendations to the governor.
The first recommendation in the executive summary is that “No campus should ever be without armed presence when staff and children are present.”
How best to provide an armed presence should be a local decision by school boards, administrators, parents and teachers.
The commission outlined several options. One is to follow the example of the Clarksville School District, which has Commission School Security Officers (CSSOs), who are staff with access to firearms in case of emergency. 
The School Safety Commission singled out the Emergency Response Team of Clarksville schools as the best practice use of CSSOs, and recommended that other school districts that use CSSOs should adopt policies similar to those adopted by Clarksville. They include psychological exams of armed staff, random drug screening and training with local law enforcement.
The commission recommended, and the governor specifically endorsed, the improvement of mental health counseling for students.
The commission and the governor pointed out that school counselors should become more available for actual counseling, which means that they must decrease the time they spend on administrative duties such as giving tests and paperwork.
Freeing up school counselors will mean changes in state law. The governor directed the state Education Commissioner to review the status of the Public School Student Services Act, which passed in 1991.
It requires school counselors to spend at least 75 percent of their time in direct counseling and no more than 25 percent of their time on administrative duties. The governor said at a press conference that counselors spend too much time on paperwork and not enough time on the needs of students.
Each school district should form a behavioral threat assessment team. Its duty would be to investigate and respond to potential threats, such as when a student posts on social media that he intends to commit a violent act.
Schools should set up a communication system that connects parents, teachers, school administrators and law enforcement. The system would allow all parties to know what plans are in place, how emergencies will be handled, whether public threats are credible and how parents and family will be notified as soon as possible during emergencies.
The commission recommended that districts consider changes to the physical layout of schools that would improve security, such as limiting public access to a single entry and installing bullet proof glass. 
When the legislature considers school safety improvements next session, the cost of recommendations will be a political issue. The question will be how to allocate costs among local schools, law enforcement agencies and the state.
Revenue Report
            The state’s fiscal year ended on June 30 with total net revenue of $5.5 billion. That is $146.2 million, or 2.7 percent, above last year.
            Sales taxes and individual income taxes contributed to revenue growth. Sales taxes increased 3.4 percent over the previous year and individual income taxes increased 4.5 percent. The growth in state revenue is a reliable indicator of the state’s overall economic condition.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – School officials are still hammering out the details of a new law that grants charter schools a right of access if they want to purchase facilities that are unused or under-utilized by the local school district.
            A specific source of disagreement is the definition of “under-utilized.” School district officials expressed concern that buildings used for storage could be categorized as under-utilized if they were not full throughout the year. 
One school official questioned how many events had to occur at a school auditorium to prevent it from being categorized as underutilized. The proposed rules were clarified to ensure that an auditorium continues to serve its purpose even if it used only a few times a semester.
            The law is Act 542 of 2017. It clarifies the right of first refusal of charter schools wishing to buy or lease unused or under-utilized school district property. Its passage was opposed by some educators who had concerns about the impact it would have on local public schools.
In the Senate the bill passed by a vote of 25-to-4, with six senators not voting. In the House, the bill failed the first time it was voted on, but its sponsors eventually won sufficient support for it to pass by a vote of 53-to-32.
            As with most new laws, passage of the bill did not officially complete the process. The next step was for officials in the state Education Department, at the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation, to put the law’s provisions into a new set of rules.
            Last week the Commission that oversees the division voted to add some new language to the proposed rules. Next there will be a period of public comment on the changes. 
It will be the third public comment period on implementation of Act 542.
            During the first public comment period, the superintendent of a small, rural district said the rules should allow for reciprocal treatment of charter school property and equipment. 
He suggested that the rules should allow traditional schools to use charter school facilities if they are under-utilized. His suggestion was not put into the rules.
            A legislative sponsor of Act 542 voiced concerns that during the drafting of the rules, legislators were not contacted to ask them their intent when they filed the bill. 
            The difficulty in finalizing the rules reflects how strongly people these days feel about public education, and how administrators should accommodate parents’ wishes for expanded school choice.
Just as rapid developments in technology are changing the workplace, they also are driving much of the debate on charter schools, because some charters rely heavily on innovative techniques.
            Officials of traditional school districts point out that they cannot choose their students. They must educate children with special needs, children from low-income families and children who do not speak English as their native language.
Some areas of Arkansas have few if any charter schools, but Act 1066 of 2017 outlines how parents can transfer their children to school districts other than the one in which they live. 
Charter schools are public schools, but they are not held to the same set of regulations with which traditional schools must comply.
In exchange for being allowed to experiment with innovative teaching methods, they must sign a charter, which is basically a performance contract, with the state Education Department.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Last year the average teacher salary in Arkansas was $48,304, which ranked 42nd in the country. New York teachers had the highest annual salaries.
            However, if a cost of living adjustment is applied to average salaries, Arkansas teachers rank 22nd and Michigan is considered the state with the highest teacher salaries.
            There are 16 states in the Southern Regional Education Board, an organization that works to improve public education from kindergarten through the doctoral level. Teacher salaries in Arkansas rank twelfth among the SREB’s 16 member states. The top three states are Maryland, Delaware and Georgia.
            Florida, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Mississippi are the Southern states in which teacher salaries are less than in Arkansas.
            Another perspective on Arkansas teacher salaries is to compare them with the six states on our borders. Texas has the highest average salaries, followed by Tennessee, Louisiana and Missouri. 
Oklahoma and Mississippi are the neighboring states where teacher salaries are lower, on average, than in Arkansas.
Legislators also keep an eye on teacher salary rankings within the state. The state Constitution mandates that the state provide an adequate and equitable public education to all children in Arkansas, regardless of where they live. 
In the Lake View school funding lawsuit, court rulings cited comparatively low teacher salaries and great disparities in wages among the school districts in Arkansas. 
The challenge for legislators is to write a school funding formula that provides equal opportunities in all parts of the state, whether they are prosperous or poor.
Since 2012, the gap between the highest and the lowest average salaries in Arkansas school districts has been greater than $20,000 a year. The Springdale School District consistently had the highest average salary, and this year it is $59,814.
In 165 districts the average salary for all teachers was below the minimum salaries paid by Springdale, which was $47,016 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree.
The state’s school funding formula is based on student enrollment. Aid is distributed on a per pupil basis. The foundation funding amount is $6,713 per student. That amount can go up depending on other factors, such as the number of special needs students in a district.
Of the foundation amount, teacher pay accounts for about 65 percent of the total. Of the $3.1 billion in total statewide foundation funding for public schools in Arkansas last year, about $2 billion was for teacher salaries.
The legislature sets minimum teacher salaries. Currently, the minimum is $31,400 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree, and $36,050 for a beginning teacher with a master’s degree. The minimum annual salary goes up by $450 for each additional year of teaching experience. For example, the minimum for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years’ experience is $35,900.
Individual districts can set their own minimum salaries, as long as they comply with the state minimums. Of the 235 school districts in Arkansas, 30 districts set their minimum at the state level.
The average teacher salaries at charter schools last year was $42,300. Just as there is a gap between salaries at traditional public schools, so there is at charters. The salaries at the highest paying charter school average $53,447 annually, which is $19,408 more than at the lowest paying charter school, which averages $34,039 a year.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

            LITTLE ROCK – In the first six months of this fiscal year, the state Office of Child Support Enforcement suspended drivers’ licenses of 4,344 non-custodial parents who had fallen behind on their legal obligation to help with financial support for their children.
            That represents a 14 percent increase in suspended drivers’ licenses over the previous year.
            The office also suspended 1,343 hunting and fishing licenses during the first six months of this fiscal year, a 17 percent increase over last year.
            Also, the office suspended 778 professional and business licenses, a 71 percent increase over last year, and 664 motor vehicle tags, a 13 percent increase.
            Total collections of child support through the office were about $137 million, a drop of 1/5 percent from the previous year.
            The Office of Child Support Enforcement is required by law to report on its activities every six months, and it made its semi-annual report at the June meeting of the Legislative Council. The report covered July 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017.
            Act 1184 of 1995 made sweeping changes in the Arkansas child support enforcement system and gave the office broader powers to locate deadbeat parents and collect overdue payments. 
When the legislature enacted the law, one of their motivations was to hold down growth in the costs of welfare and food stamp programs. Research indicated that children were more likely to need public assistance if their non-custodial parents failed to keep up with financial support.
In 1993 the Office set up a paternity acknowledgement program, with the goal of teaching mothers the long-term benefits of establishing paternity. Under the program, hospital staff helps the mother fill out paperwork that acknowledges the father of the newborn.
In the first six months of this fiscal year, 5,305 paternity acknowledgements were submitted to the office. That information will help the office in any future attempts to locate and collect child support from non-custodial parents.
Lottery Revenue
            The Arkansas lottery, which provides money for the state’s most popular college scholarship program, is on pace to have its best year since 2013.
            Revenue in May was about $40 million, up from about $38 million for May of last year. That’s the most collected in lottery revenue for May since 2013.
For the first 11 months of this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, revenue is about $463 million. Of that amount, more than $78 million will go towards college scholarships. That is the most since 2013, when $81 million for scholarships was generated during the first 11 months of the fiscal year.
It appears likely that revenue for scholarships this fiscal year will exceed the official estimate of $83.6 million for Fiscal Year 2018.
In addition to revenue from the lottery, scholarships are funded with state general revenue from tax collections.
            Theories for the growth in lottery ticket sales include heightened interest created by enormous jackpots in Powerball and Mega Millions games, new advertising campaigns and new scratch off games. Also, the legislature voted to allow players to buy tickets with debit cards.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Legislators and business leaders have made it a priority to encourage more Arkansas students to graduate from college with a degree or a certificate proving that they have learned a core set of job skills.
            The overall prosperity of a state depends in large part on the educational level of its citizens.
            That was one of the reasons the legislature changed the funding formula for state colleges and universities last year. State aid to higher education will no longer rely so much on enrollment, and instead will be based more on the number of graduates who successfully complete their studies.
            After changing the method of funding colleges and universities, the legislature then added $10 million to state aid during the fiscal session earlier this year. The hope is that additional state aid will allow institutions to hold down tuition increases.
            In a letter to presidents and chancellors of Arkansas universities, the governor noted that tuition at their institutions had gone up from 3 percent to more than 6 percent a year over the past 10 years. He challenged universities to freeze tuition next year, and he challenged two-year colleges to hold any increase to the level of inflation.
            According to a report by the Southern Regional Education Board on the affordability of higher education in Arkansas, “Tuition and fees at both public four-year and public two-year institutions in Arkansas have been growing much more rapidly than either inflation or family income.” That report described tuition increases from 2006 through 2014.
            Research indicates that one of the important reasons that students don’t finish college is that they have problems paying for it. Even for students with financial aid, tuition and fees eat up a high percentage of their family’s income.
            In the past few weeks, the boards of trustees of higher education institutions have been meeting to set tuition and fees for the 2018 fall semester. The universities have accepted the challenge and held tuition to this year’s levels, but they have increased mandatory fees.
            Tuition will remain unchanged at the five four-year campuses in the University of Arkansas system. They are in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Little Rock, Monticello and Pine Bluff. However, fees will go up at all the campuses. Tuition for the system’s seven two-year colleges will go up, but by less than 2.1 percent.
            Arkansas State University in Jonesboro will also hold tuition to current levels, although fees will go up. The ASU system has four two-year colleges, and fees will go up slightly at three of them. ASU Mid South in West Memphis will not raise either tuition or fees.
Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Arkansas Tech in Russellville and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway will do the same.
State Revenue Report
            The state fiscal year ends on June 30. The May report from the Department of Finance and Administration indicates that for the first 11 months of the fiscal year, revenue collections are on a pace to generate a budget surplus of $44 million.
            Net general revenue for the year-to-date is about $4.9 billion, or 3.3 percent more than last year.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – A recent survey of school bus drivers indicates a disturbing increase in the number of motorists who illegally pass stopped school buses while they are loading and unloading students.
            The state Education Department conducted a survey of drivers on April 24. A total of 3,258 bus drivers, in 194 school districts, participated. Their responses were “alarming,” in the words of the transportation manager for the state Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation.
            Bus drivers reported 857 instances of being passed illegally by a motor vehicle while the bus was stopped and red lights were flashing and a stop sign was extended. That is an alarming increase from last year’s survey, when drivers reported 726 instances of being illegally passed during a stop.
            It’s a cause for concern, as the transportation manager said, because even one instance is too many. To have hundreds of instances in a single day creates the potential for tragedy, because every school day in Arkansas, more than 7,000 buses transport about 350,000 students. In the winter months, it can be dark when buses stop to drop off or pick up students.
When a school bus picks up and drops off students, the average time of the stop is only three minutes.
            In 2005 the legislature increased the penalties for passing a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing, in response to the death in 2004 of a nine-year-old from Bryant who was struck by a passing car and killed. 
Since then, other Arkansas students have died after being struck by passing motorists. In 2007 a 14-year-old girl from Watson Chapel and in 2014 a 12-year-old girl in Pike County were killed by drivers who passed stopped school buses.
            The law made it negligent homicide to cause someone’s death while illegally passing a stopped school bus. It also raised the penalties for passing a school bus, even if no injuries or accidents occur. The offense is still a misdemeanor, but the fine went up from a minimum of $35 to a minimum of $250. The maximum fine went up from $500 to $1,000.
            The offending driver may also be jailed for up to 90 days.
            Isaac’s Law allows the judge to order community service of up to 400 hours, and it mandates that the driver’s license of the offender be suspended. Previously, suspension of the driver’s license was optional, and now it must be suspended for a minimum of 21 days and a maximum of a year.
            The law takes into account school bus stops on highways with multiple lanes, divided by a median strip or a grassy parkway. On those highways, drivers going the opposite direction do not have to stop, but they shall proceed with due caution as they approach the school bus.
The definition of a multiple lane highway in Isaac’s Law does not include five-lane highways with a turning lane in the center, therefore motorists going in both directions must stop for school buses that are unloading students and have their flashing red lights on.
The Education Department, police departments and local schools promote school bus safety in August, when the school year begins, in a campaign called “Flashing Red, Kids Ahead.”  A reminder is needed as we approach summer vacation, when children can be more impulsive than usual.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – When Arkansas voters go to the polls for the primary elections on May 22, or if they vote early beginning May 7, they will have to present a government-issued photo ID in order to get a regular ballot.
            The photo ID is required under Act 633 of 2017, which passed in the Senate last year by a vote of 25-to-8, with two senators not voting.
            An Arkansas registered voter challenged the constitutionality of Act 633 in a lawsuit. The initial ruling by a circuit judge was that it was unconstitutional.
However, state election officials appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which overturned the circuit judge’s injunction. That means the photo ID requirements will be in effect for May’s primary elections.
In the coming months, a couple of developments will affect whether Arkansas has a permanent photo ID requirement for voters.
First of all, the Supreme Court stay only applies to voting in the May primaries. The Supreme Court did not decide on the constitutionality of Act 633, it simply overturned the lower court judge.
Before the November general election, the Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments on the constitutionality of Act 633.
Another factor could establish photo ID requirements as Arkansas law, regardless of the litigation prompted by Act 633. In November, Arkansas residents will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that requires voters to present a photo ID. The measure was placed on the ballot by the legislature and is known as Issue Two.
If voters approve Issue Two, it would put the photo ID requirement in the state Constitution and supersede any rulings that arise from the lawsuits challenging Act 633.
Act 633 is the legislature’s second attempt to require a photo ID. In 2013 lawmakers enacted a similar voter ID law, but it too was challenged in court and the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. Supporters then focused on writing the ID requirement into the Constitution, through an amendment approved by voters in a statewide election.
The legislature may refer three proposed constitutional amendments to voters, and the photo ID requirement was one of two referred during the 2017 regular session. The other, Issue One, is a tort reform measure.
Department of Transportation Revenue
            Last week I reported erroneous revenue figures for the Department of Transportation. The $308 million total should be for the fiscal year-to-date up to and including March, and not just for the month of March.
The revenue is mostly from motor fuels taxes, and also includes registration fees on trucks and heavy vehicles, permit fees and penalties and revenue from a severance tax on natural gas.
Relying so much on traditional revenue from motor fuels taxes, paid at the gas pump by drivers on a per gallon basis, presents a financial challenge to highway officials. That’s because motor vehicles every year are manufactured with greater fuel efficiency. Four-door sedans that used to get 15 miles per gallon routinely get 30 miles to the gallon.
Since 1970 the Department has reduced its staff from about 4,200 employees to about 3,600 employees, bringing down its administrative costs per mile to the third lowest in the country.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The state has seen a drop in the number of people enrolled in Arkansas Works, the Arkansas version of an expanded Medicaid program.
            During the month of March, enrollment in Arkansas Works fell by 3,637 people, from about 284,000 to about 281,000.
The decline comes even before the state imposes stricter eligibility requirements that call for some Medicaid recipients either to work or to look for a job in order to continue receiving benefits.
Medicaid is administered by the state Human Services Department, which released a monthly report for March detailing expenditures and enrollment.
The report breaks down Medicaid into two statistical categories – traditional Medicaid and Arkansas Works. Medicaid provides health coverage for people with disabilities, the elderly who are in long-term care facilities, and low-income families.
The number of people who are eligible for traditional Medicaid fluctuates, and has hovered around 700,000 for the past few years. The March report indicates that 235,436 adults and 418,278 children are enrolled in traditional Medicaid.
Arkansas Works, previously known as the private option, is the version that Arkansas implemented after Congress enacted federal health care changes in 2010. The affordable care act took effect after several years and numerous court battles.
After the federal government enacted an expanded version of Medicaid, implementation at the state level has been the most controversial issue facing Arkansas legislators. Every legislative session, controversy centers around its cost.
Renewing Arkansas Works requires a 75 percent majority of the legislature, and the legislature reaches that supermajority every year by a close vote.
The state’s Medicaid population, in both categories, is now 963,758. The entire state population is a little more than 3 million people.
The work and job training requirements for Arkansas Works will go into effect in June for recipients aged 30 to 49. They must participate in work activities to keep their benefits, but there will be exemptions for pregnant women, people with disabilities, caregivers, people in drug treatment and people in full-time job training or vocational school.
People enrolled in Arkansas Works are scheduled to receive a notice in April advising them of the new requirements.
Kentucky and Indiana also have approved work requirements.
School Safety Commission
            At a meeting of the newly-created Arkansas School Safety Commission, a spokesman for school administrators said that financial support from the state would be necessary in order to hire armed security officers and put in place safety measures.
            Security improvements include video cameras, door locks, fences and radio equipment.
            In addition to firearms training, some staff should be trained in mental health counseling and behavior analysis. Schools would need additional funding if their licensed staff who are permitted to carry firearms are screened for illegal drug use, and if they take psychological examinations.
            Each school district has its own distinct needs in order to upgrade security. For example, in some areas, the availability of police officers and deputies is limited.