Thursday, September 2, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – In a rare move, a legislative subcommittee working on adequate funding of public schools last week reversed a vote it had taken a week earlier.

The Joint Adequacy Evaluation Oversight Subcommittee initially had recommended spending an additional 2.5 percent on public schools next fiscal year.

After the governor and some legislators expressed concerns about the funding recommendation, the subcommittee agreed to backtrack on its prior vote. Some legislators also expressed doubts about how quickly the recommendation was made.

They said that it wasn't necessary to adopt a final spending recommendation until later in the fall, when legislative budget hearings will be almost complete.

Questions about next year's inflation rate prompted the subcommittee to backtrack on its original vote. The current level of school funding is considered adequate, but the issue for lawmakers is how much to increase funding next year to account for increased costs.

School funding traditionally has accounted for half of the state's general revenue fund - an estimated $1.849 billion this year. A 2.5 percent increase would add $69 million to the amount of state funding for schools from kindergarten through grade 12 in the 2011-2012 school year.

The Joint Adequacy Subcommittee is a subcommittee of the Senate and House Education Committees. After the subcommittee withdrew its recommendation, the Education Committees issued a report that does not specify how much additional money should be spent on schools. They plan to recommend a funding amount by November 1.

The Senate and House Education Committees have the duty to determine how much state funding is necessary to provide an adequate education to the 465,000 students in Arkansas. Once a determination is made the legislature must provide funding in the complete amount, or risk falling out of compliance with the Constitution.

If revenue collections fall off, budget cuts would affect prisons, colleges, human services and other areas of state government. However, school funding will not be cut because of the constitutional requirement to adequately fund public education.

In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that school funding was constitutional. The ruling ended a 15-year lawsuit filed by the former Lake View School District. It was a small, rural district in the delta of east Arkansas that has since had to merge with a neighboring district..

No Increase in Park Fees

Fees for camping and staying in cabins and lodges at Arkansas state parks will not go up next year. The state Parks, Recreation and Travel Commission voted to reject a proposed 10 percent increase after the governor publicly expressed opposition to raising fees at state parks.

The increase would have generated an additional $1 million a year for the state Parks and Tourism Department, and would have helped pay for renovations and upkeep of park facilities. A department official said that he hoped parks would bring in needed revenue from an increase in visitors. The department operates 52 parks and museums. Its website is at this Internet address:

Counting state, federal and privately-owned facilities, Arkansas has almost 9,800 individual family campsites.

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