School Facilities Letter to Legislators
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on facilities funding for Arkansas public schools. We feel that the educational needs of the state’s students require adequate and equitable facilities regardless of whether the facilities are for charter schools or traditional public schools. We were therefore concerned when a proposal for funding charter schools moved forward without going through the adequacy study process that funding for traditional schools has followed.
We hope you will consider these concerns about the funding for traditional schools prior to making a decision on funding for charter schools.
1) The biennial educational adequacy study has failed to reassess the facilities program and its results in individual school districts since the original assessment of need in 2004. A reassessment would reveal that while many school facility conditions are improved, there is still much need particularly in poor property wealth school districts in rural areas. The state’s wealth index has lessened the inequities and inadequacies but has not eliminated them. Video documentation of these needs was presented to the Education Committees in April, 2013.
2) The large one-time influx of general improvement funding [$500 million in 2008] has been spent down. Facilities expenditures for the last four years have averaged approximately $105 million. Current spending levels cannot be maintained with the $55 to $60 million annually the state has been investing, even before the recent cut.
3) It has been suggested that the state’s major school facilities needs have been met. First priority is being shifted to districts with student growth needing expanded facilities. This assertion is based on a very low bar—warm, safe, and dry.
4) One stream of funding for facilities from a pre-Lake View facilities program in the amount of approximately $16 million per year was diverted to use for teacher health insurance. While we support solutions to the teacher health insurance problem, robbing facilities funding merely creates a larger deficit in a program already needing to replace the depleted one-time general improvement fund revenue.
5) Many districts have aged-out buildings that should have been renovated or replaced years ago. They have instead been patched to meet the lowest possible facility standard of warm, safe and dry. This is in contrast to districts that have substantial local resources to provide up-to-date modern facilities for their students through major renovations or new construction.
6) Districts with substantial local resources are to be commended for using them to the benefit of their students, but what about the districts without these resources? Some districts still cannot raise as much income per student as the districts with fewer mills but greater property wealth. The state wealth index has reduced but not eliminated the disparities.
7) Facilities standards have not been updated in the past ten years to incorporate up-to-date research on adequacy for current technology, current collaborative learning process, current integrated career and academic education programs, and current research on school climate and culture.
8) Available state money is being invested in a duplicate set of school buildings for charter schools while traditional public schools serving the over-whelming majority of Arkansas students are experiencing cuts to already inadequate facilities funding.
The Special Masters who reported to the Supreme Court in 2005 listed language in Act 1426 of 2005, “in order to satisfy the constitutional expectations of the Supreme Court, the state should: (1) provide constitutionally appropriate public school academic facilities for the education of each similarly situated child in the public schools of Arkansas, regardless of where that child resides within the state.”
To ensure the provision of equitable and adequate facilities to all the state’s students, we request that the public charter school funding proposal be part of the adequacy funding process and included in a comprehensive plan that addresses needs for facilities for all public schools.
Thank you for consideration of our request.
Executive Director, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
President, Arkansas Education Association
Chair, Arkansas Opportunity to Learn Campaign
William El-Amin and Mark Robertson
Co-Chairs, Arkansas Citizens First Congress
Policy and Education Director, Rural Community Alliance
Dr. Tony Prothro
Executive Director, Arkansas School Boards Association