EDUCATION REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS
“The most callused aspect of the (Arkansas) education monopoly is that it willingly and deliberately forces children--except those whose parents have wealth--to attend bad schools. And it does so with financial resources taken from parents already struggling financially and at the expense of their ability to choose a better school for their sons and daughters.” Policy Foundation report,11998
Advance Private School Choice
Three states that border Arkansas have private school choice programs, while Tennessee policymakers are eyeing the reform. Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma have enacted tax credit, scholarship or voucher programs since 2008. Arkansas, by contrast, does not allow private school choice though more than 19,000 students are enrolled in independent schools.2 Arkansas does allow public school choice. Private school choice should be advanced starting with at-risk students in failing K-12 public schools.
Eight states in the 12-state Southeast region have private school choice. They are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Arkansas should not be the last state in the region to adopt this education reform.
Defend Charter Schools
Charter schools have advanced in Arkansas since Policy Foundation analysts Allyson Tucker and Donna Watson wrote their 1996 study3 recommending the idea. The charter law was expanded in 1999, 2005, 2007, and 2011, and nearly 17,000 students4 attended charters in the 2013-14 school year. Status quo defenders call for a reduction in the number of charters. They should not be allowed to turn-back-the-clock on this reform. Charters should be expanded starting with the Little Rock School District.
The Little Rock School District's Property Tax Lever
The Little Rock School District's decision to levy more than 25 mills has economic implications for property tax payers statewide. Amendment 74 established a "uniform" 25-mill property tax rate "to be levied on the assessed value of all taxable real, personal and utility property in the state to be used solely for maintenance and operation of the schools." Net revenues from the rate are remitted to the state Treasurer and redistributed to school districts. They "are used by districts solely for the maintenance and operation of schools. Most districts levy the 25-mill rate but Little Rock levies more than 25 mills, a lever on taxpayers. Here's why: the state must provide an "adequate and equitable education for all students in its public school system," per the Lake View school finance case. The state accomplishes this goal with a per-pupil foundation grant based on property taxes and student enrollment. Legislators appropriate foundation funds, which make up more than half of district revenues. The bigger the pot, the more tax dollars can be redistributed. Most districts receive more foundation funding than property tax receipts. Little Rock is different: it's property tax lever increases the foundation pot and creates spending pressure.
Merge Service Co-Ops Into One Unit
One educational collective escaped scrutiny in the consolidation debate after the state Supreme Court's decision in Lake View: service co-operatives. Much of the debate about K-12 consolidation revolved around the 350-student enrollment threshold to be used as criteria for annexation or consolidation.5 A similar debate did not occur regarding co-ops. All existing co-ops should be merged into a single professional K-12 educational services center under the aegis of the Director, Department of Education.
Defend Letter Grades
The K-12 public school letter grades approved in 2013 were based on a 1998 Policy Foundation recommendation. Policymakers should resist any attempt to reduce standards for the new letter grade (A, B, C, D, F) system.
1 “Arkansas' Public Schools: A Thirty Year $20 Billion Taxpayer Investment Yields An Unprecedented Crisis in Academic Performance.” The study is dedicated to the late Karen L. Henry (1951-1998), a Policy Foundation board member, Murphy Commission Education Team co-chair, and passionate crusader for education reform.
2 "Arkansas School Choice Market Expands" (Policy Foundation research memo) February 2014
3 Arkansas' Weak Charter School Law
4 Arkansas Department of Education communication to Policy Foundation, January 31, 2014.
5 PA 60 of the 2nd Extraordinary Session of 2003