Reduced funding isn’t the answer
The state of Arkansas has 269 school districts. Some of those districts are large and some are small. Some are financially stable and some are not. Some have students who fare well on standardized testing and some do not.
Those last two sentences often go hand in hand. School districts that struggle financially often have students who struggle academically. It can be a vicious circle as those districts struggle to attract and retain the kind of teachers and administrators who can help their students learn and improve their basic knowledge in core areas like reading and math.
I’ve seen that cycle up close, and it’s not pretty. It’s the kind of thing that can have significant effects on a community — effects that reach far beyond the school walls.
For a poor school district, every dollar is precious. It doesn’t matter if that dollar comes from a local millage, or from the state or federal government. There’s no such thing as extra money for a poor school district.
Thus, I was quite alarmed to learn of a bill that’s been proposed in the Arkansas State Senate.
SB 349, sponsored by State Sen. Alan Clark of Lonsdale, would reduce funding for school districts whose students’ reading assessment scores decline. Specifically, Lonsdale proposes decreasing the amount of money a district receives in National School Lunch State Categorical Funding if its students in grades 3-10 perform worse on reading assessments for two consecutive years. If a school district’s reading scores go backward for three years in a row, those funds would be stripped completely.
To be clear, Clark is not proposing that the state yank the money that provides free or reduced-price lunches to impoverished students. The funding targeted in Clark’s bill is distributed by the state to districts with high percentages of students living in poverty. The name of the program is misleading, but the importance of the funding is crystal-clear.
If we want to move our state forward, we must focus on legislation that helps the students who are most in need. I won’t pretend to read Clark’s mind; perhaps his proposal is well-intentioned. However, its ultimate effect may well turn out to be punitive and my concern is that it would make it even more difficult for some school districts to provide a quality education.
My question with any legislation connected to Arkansas’ public education system is, does it serve the students’ best interests? In my opinion, Sen. Clark’s bill does just the opposite.
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Scott Loftis is managing editor for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CarrollCountyNews@cox-internet.com.