Thursday, October 28, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – The Senate and House Education Committees voted to add $59.8 million to public school funding next year so that every child in Arkansas has equal access to an adequate education, as required by the state Constitution.

The additional money represents an increase of 2 percent in school funding.

The Education Committee vote was an important and necessary step toward writing the state budget for fiscal year 2012, which the legislature will finalize in the regular session that begins January 10.

The Arkansas Constitution requires the state to provide all children with an adequate education. It does not require the state to provide the numerous other services that people have come to expect from state government. Under the state balanced budget law, when revenue drops and spending must be cut, funding for public schools from kindergarten through grade 12 is spared.

Budget cuts, if necessary, will be made in the rest of state government. That is why health care providers for Medicaid, higher education officials and agency directors throughout state government were closely watching the Education Committee vote. They wanted to know how much funding K-12 is set to receive in order to get a clearer idea how much is left over for their agencies.

The $59.8 million in additional school expenditures will come from the state general revenue fund and from growth in Uniform Rate of Taxation (URT), which is the 25 mills in local property taxes that are dedicated exclusively to public schools.

The exact amount that will come from URT and from general revenue won't be known until next year, during the legislative session.

For context, this year's school funding will total an estimated $2.76 billion. Another way to describe it is that it amounts to a minimum of $6,023 per pupil.

School districts get additional per pupil funding for students with learning disabilities or who come from an impoverished home, because those students require more resources to teach. Also, districts receive bonus funding for students who don't speak English as their primary language.

College Athletic Spending

Athletic spending at the state's two-year colleges and four-year universities rose by 11 percent last year, to a total of $117 million. Ten public universities accounted for virtually all of the athletic spending at Arkansas institutions of higher education. The state's 22 two-year colleges accounted for less than 1 percent of the total amount that was spent on sports in the 2009-2010 school year.

The Department of Higher Education tallied the numbers, which will be sent to legislative auditors. Under state law, last year colleges and universities were allowed to take $1,124,720 from education and general funds to spend on athletics. Five Arkansas universities spent on athletics the maximum they were allowed to transfer from education and general funding, according to the report.

Universities charge students a fee to help cover the cost of athletic programs, which also get money from ticket sales, licensing, sponsorships and private donations.

Arkansas colleges and universities employ about 24,000, who did not get raises this year because of slow tax revenues, caused by the economic downturn.

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