Judge invalidates part of school funding mechanism – Education Week

Published Online: November 25, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A superior court judge has invalidated the state of Alaska's requirement that local school districts help pay for education, which could leave a cash-strapped state on the hook for more than $220 million in additional funding statewide.

Judge William Carey ruled the contribution is a dedicated fund, which violate the state constitution's provision that no state tax or license will be earmarked for any special purpose. Carey ruled in the case Friday, but copies of the decision weren't available online from the Ketchikan court. The state Department of Law distributed copies of the decision Monday.

Under state statute, districts must pay a certain percentage of its taxable real and personal property for its share of local school districts. For Ketchikan, that amounted to about $4 million in 2013.

"We are disappointed with the superior court's decision invalidating the local contribution requirement for school funding. The State maintains that because the local contribution is simply the borough's share of the cost of educating its students and because the local contribution is funded with borough revenue, the local contribution is not a source of state revenue and is not subject to the dedicated funds provision," the Alaska attorney general's office said in a statement.

Carey wrote in his opinion that the required local contribution, or RLC, consists of public revenues.

"It is hard to conceive of a way, and the State does not propose any, whereby a municipal district could raise the funds necessary to fulfill its RLC obligation without resorting to taxes," he wrote.

Lawyers for the state continue to evaluate the decision and any appeal options.

"We're looking forward to the future," Ketchikan Gateway Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst told The Associated Press on Monday. "We feel what Judge Carey decided was a major victory for the borough."

For the 2013-14 academic year, the state Department of Education distributed about $1.4 billion to districts, of which about $222 million came from local contributions.

Gov.-elect Bill Walker takes office next Monday, and is already facing a $3 billion shortfall because of lower oil prices. He campaigned on a promise to cut the budget across-the-board by 16 percent.

An education department spokeswoman said funding is up to the Alaska Legislature, which convenes in January.

School funding was hotly contested during the last legislative session. While lawmakers flirted with changes to funding calculations and with raising the required local contribution, they ultimately decided to study how the state funds schools and further delve into the issue later. A bill to scrap the required local contribution, from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, failed to gain traction.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough sued in January, arguing the required local contribution for schools is unconstitutional. The borough also claimed the mandated payment violated the Legislature's appropriation powers. Carey didn't find for the borough on that provision, however, since boroughs bypass the state treasury and give the money directly to local districts.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough filed a friend of the court brief in support of its fellow borough.


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Arkansas lawmakers urge higher pay for teachers – Education Week

Published Online: October 28, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers are recommending an increase of almost $1,800 in base pay for new teachers.

The House and Senate education committees advised raising the minimum starting teacher salary from $29,244 to $31,000 by fiscal 2017, the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/130DSeB ).

They made the recommendation, along with other suggestions, on Monday as part of a biennial report that will be sent to another legislative committee and then to the full Legislature for approval.

The proposal will cost the state about $16.5 million each year from Arkansas' general revenue budget.

People already teaching in Arkansas would also receive raises under the committees' recommendation. Educators with more experience and a bachelor's degree would get $450 more in salary, while educators with more experience and a master's degree would get $500 more.

"At the last committee meeting, I think we sort of arrived at the consensus that raising the minimum salary was a good thing. I think we all got to that point," said Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville. "What we couldn't agree to ... is how to get there."

State lawmakers had studied three ways to increase brand-new teacher salaries, including increasing the base pay by 1 to 2 percent or to just a flat $31,000.

In the report, the committees also suggested that state lawmakers seek ways to find an extra $65 million to fund school district requests for building needs. If some districts win appeals with the state's education department for their project requests, then that amount could increase by up to $50 million.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com


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Snack rules behind drop in school vending sales – Education Week

Published Online: October 15, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Eating healthy is shrinking something besides waistlines in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

School district officials report there's been a 71 percent drop in revenues collected from vending machines at schools within the district, money that is mostly targeted to fund extracurricular activities, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported (http://is.gd/YsadN1).

Revenue has fallen 71 percent in the last decade, the district's chief financial officer, Mike Fisher, told the school board last month.

Revenues from high schools in the district brought in nearly $225,000 in 2003, but that fell to $64,000 last year, he said.

"It's really unfortunate because the revenue was so beneficial — when we talk about vending — was so beneficial to our extracurricular activities in our schools," board President Heidi Haas said.

The drop became evident after the school district six years ago implemented stricter standards on what could be offered in the vending machines, including reductions in calorie counts and fat and sugar content.

At the beginning of this school year, the federal government instituted stricter guidelines through the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative.

It restricts every school district in the nation from selling snacks that fail to meet certain nutrition standards during the school day. The guidelines also define the school day as starting at midnight and extending until 30 minutes after the final school bell of the day.

Before these standards went into effect, districts could sell 12-ounce cans of soda with more than 100 calories, but now those products with empty calories — defined by the federal government as those coming from solid fats or added sugars — are no longer allowed to be sold.

The standards do not apply to food students bring from home or things like birthday cake served as classroom parties.

School board member Wendy Dominique has asked administrators about stemming the revenue losses by applying for an exemption from the initiative, which is part of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Districts can apply for exemptions for a certain number of days each year for schools to host things like bake sales and other food-related fundraisers.

However, the district's nutrition services director, Amy Rouse, said she has been told the state doesn't intend to seek waivers. The state education department didn't have immediate comment Wednesday to The Associated Press.

"If there's any change or action that can be taken at this time it needs to start from grass roots, and everybody needs to contact their representatives in Congress because the smart-snack regulation is the result of (Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorization)," Rouse said.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com


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Arkansas sees growth in AP test takers, scores – Education Week

Published Online: October 8, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Department of Education says more students are taking Advanced Placement tests — and scores on those exams are going up, too.

The department says more than 25,000 students took the tests last school year, which is a nearly 5 percent increase over the previous year. Students who score a 3 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5 can receive college credit hours.

More than 14,000 tests received scores of 3 or higher, marking a 6.4 percent increase from a year earlier.

The most popular AP exams in Arkansas last year were English language, English literature, U.S. history and world history. State law requires every Arkansas high school to teach at least four Advanced Placement classes in the subject areas of math, science, English and social studies.


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State may require more math for diplomas – Education Week

Published Online: September 30, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — The state Board of Education is considering a new requirement for high school graduation that's already in place in most school districts.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://bit.ly/1tdPDnQ) reports a proposed regulation would require students to complete three credits of math.

The requirement now is two credits out of the 21 needed to graduate. Half a credit typically is earned in a class each semester.

The state has 54 school districts and 45 already require students to take at least three credits of math.

Susan McCauley of the state Department of Education says the state board in June learned that 42 states require more math credits than Alaska.

The board asked the department for a proposal making Alaska requirements comparable.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com


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Jeb Bush talks education for Arkansas GOP hopeful – Education Week

Published Online: September 30, 2014

SHERWOOD, Ark. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush praised education proposals from gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas Tuesday despite differences between the Republicans on key school reforms, as the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate stepped up campaigning for Republicans in tight races ahead of the midterm elections.

Bush singled out Hutchinson's proposal to expand computer science classes in Arkansas schools after the two toured a Sherwood charter school and viewed students' science projects. He also planned to headline a fundraiser for Hutchinson, who is running against Democratic nominee and fellow ex-congressman Mike Ross.

"Your whole education plan is right on target, and I think the state and children of Arkansas will do well with your leadership," Bush said at a news conference.

Bush, the brother and son of the last two Republican presidents, is mulling whether to run for the White House in 2016. Unlike several other possible GOP contenders, he kept a relatively low public profile earlier in the year. But he has actively campaigned for GOP candidates of late. He is the latest of a series of possible 2016 White House hopefuls to appear in Arkansas, including U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

A day earlier, Bush campaigned for Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas. Last week, he was in North Carolina to boost Senate candidate Thom Tillis, and he appeared at a fundraiser in Chicago recently for another GOP governor candidate, Illinois businessman Bruce Rauner.

Bush has been an advocate of the Common Core academic standards, which were developed by a bipartisan group of governors and state school officials and later promoted by the Obama administration. The standards have faced a backlash from conservatives in Arkansas and other states, and Hutchinson has said he'll review them next year.

When asked if he had any advice for Hutchinson on the issue, Bush said higher standards are needed — even if it's not Common Core.

"For the United States to succeed and for states to succeed, we need high standards," Bush said. "Whether they're called Common Core or best Arkansas standards, whatever we have today need to be higher and they need to be assessed faithfully and we need to assure that more than a third of our kids are college and/or career ready."

Hutchinson said he believed the two were in agreement.

"I've consistently said whatever standards we resolve that we need to make sure they're high standards and have high expectations for our students and that's critically important and that they're measurable," he said.

Bush has also been a vocal supporter of private school vouchers, an idea that Hutchinson said he doesn't support in Arkansas.

Ross and Hutchinson are running to succeed Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. Republicans, who already have a majority among the nation's governors, hope to win a seat in Arkansas from the Democrats.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo


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Teacher pay, insurance key issues at forum – Education Week

Published Online: September 23, 2014

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas educators say the next governor of the state will need to help teachers overcome low pay and high health insurance premiums.

At a forum Tuesday in Hot Springs, the major-party nominees for governor told a meeting of the Arkansas Public School Resource Center they were sympathetic but that their ability to help is limited.

Responding to a question from the audience, Democratic candidate Mike Ross said tax cuts passed last year amid negotiations in Arkansas' Medicaid program will likely limit revenue growth to $50 million next year.

Republican candidate Asa Hutchinson agreed to the need to increase teacher pay and control insurance costs but told the crowd the next governor will face a challenge doing so.


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