Thursday, September 25, 2014

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – Funding of public school facilities may be one of the most difficult budget issues facing legislators when they convene in regular session in January.
            In 2007 the legislature dedicated $456 million in “one time” money to the school facilities fund.  That was the amount that was deemed necessary to equalize facilities funding among prosperous and poor districts of Arkansas, and to bring all districts in the state up to constitutional standards. 
Later in 2007 the state Supreme Court released the state from its jurisdiction in the long-running Lake View school funding lawsuit.  In its order the court cited the enormous amounts of money the legislature had appropriated for public school improvements. 
However, the court also cautioned that maintaining a constitutionally adequate and equitable school system required constant study, review and adjustment by policy makers. Under the court’s final ruling in the Lake View case the state is mandated under the constitution to provide for a sufficient education for all children, and a lack of funding is not a valid reason for failing to fund schools adequately. For that reason, the legislature thoroughly analyzes what levels of funding will be adequate and appropriates state revenue to cover that amount.
An official at the Education Department reported to legislators last week that the state is on pace to be about $65 million short on facilities funding in 2015 and 2016.  The “one time” money allocated for facilities in 2007 has been spent, and the shortfall would be even more severe except for the fact that the governor supplemented facilities funding last year with $20 million from his allotment of surplus funds.
The Education Department’s facilities division has approved more than 2,100 projects under its Partnership Program.  Those are in addition to several hundred projects funded under programs that ended in 2008 and 2009 for school facilities that needed immediate repairs.
According to the division, the most common types of projects are new roofing, heating and air conditioning, electrical systems and fire safety renovations. In recent years there has been an increase in the number of applications from school districts for funding of electrical and plumbing projects.
Bag It and Tag It
            The state Game and Fish Commission hopes to save money this deer season, thanks to new technology that allows hunters to tag their deer using a smart phone app.
            Traditionally, more than half of all deer checked in have been over the telephone, and on average each call costs the Commission $2.35. When hunters check in their deer with a smart phone app it will cost 50 cents.  Savings will be used for habitat management and acquisition of land, a spokesman said.
You can check your deer online at or you can still use the telephone.  Call 1-866-305-0808. There are instructions on the Game and Fish web site about downloading the smart phone app.
Crime Victims Reparations
            The Arkansas Crime Victims Reparations Board awarded $228,801 in August to victims of crime in 126 new cases and 49 cases previously submitted.
            The money can be used by victims for medical expenses, lost wages, funeral expenses, mental health counseling, loss of support and clean-up of crime scenes.

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