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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Law regulates use of restraint in schools – Education Week

Published Online: October 27, 2014

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A law that went into effect last week establishes, for the first time, statewide standards for the use of physical restraint and seclusion on students in Alaska public schools.

Before House Bill 210, which Gov. Sean Parnell signed into law in July, became effective Oct. 14, Alaska statutes were vague, allowing teachers and other staff members to use "reasonable and necessary" physical restraint in emergencies but offering no details on what was permitted and what was not. The law was silent on the practice of seclusion, when a student is placed in a locked room.

In practice, that meant individual school districts were left to formulate their own policies on restraint and seclusion -- or operate without one at all, said Don Enoch, the state's special education administrator.

In Alaska and nationally, physical restraint "holds" and seclusion in "safe rooms" have been used on students whose behaviors are violent or out of control and disruptive. Often those students have documented disabilities that cause or contribute to the behavior. Educators say the techniques are sometimes the only way to keep students and staff safe.

After a report that accused the Anchorage School District of overusing restraint and seclusion was released last fall, some parents pushed for more regulation.

"The new law is a big deal," said Ashley Dunks, a mother of three who says her son, who has autism, was secluded against her wishes at an Anchorage elementary school.

She started the Facebook group Ban Seclusion Rooms in Alaska and collaborated with Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, who introduced the bill. Dunks even testified at legislative hearings held in the spring.

"I told them what had happened to my son," she said. "I let (the legislators) know that this is happening in schools."

The new law defines terms like "seclusion" and "restraint" and bars methods such as sedating any student with drugs or placing them in restraint chairs or in positions where the child's airway might be compromised. It also requires that staff members be trained in safe restraint techniques and mandates that parents be told after an incident where a child is restrained or secluded. Schools will have to report data on seclusion and restraint incidents to the state for the first time.

"What it does is set some standards," said Ron Cowan, an investigator with the Alaska Disability Law Center. "We really had nothing that was enforceable up to this point."

Last year, a report by the Anchorage-based Disability Law Center charged that the Anchorage School District was restraining and secluding students far too often at Mt. Iliamna Elementary, a school for children with serious behavioral or emotional problems.

Much of the new policy mirrors rules the Anchorage School District already had in place, wrote assistant superintendent Linda Carlson, who oversees special education, in an email.

"However, as a result of some of the language in the new laws, our School Board policy on restraint and seclusion is being revised so that it is much more detailed in nature and we are having to examine ways to collect data around restraint and seclusion incidents," she wrote.

Many other school districts collected no data at all, said Cowan.

Without statewide data, it's hard to know how often Alaska schools are restraining or secluding students.

National data shows the practice is widespread: An analysis by NPR and ProPublica found at least 267,000 restraint and seclusion incidents nationwide. About 75 percent of the time, children with disabilities were the ones being restrained or secluded.

Alaska is among a rush of states that have moved to regulate or ban seclusion and restraint in recent years. Federal standards might be on the way, too.

In February, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., introduced bills in Congress that would set minimum standards for the use of restraint and seclusion.

The attention comes in response to high-profile incidents in other states where children died or were hurt being restrained at school, Cowan said. Districts will work with the state to make sure their policies on restraint and seclusion comply with the new law, said Enoch, the state special education administrator.

"We're happy about this," he said. "It's better to have some guidelines come into place than have something terrible happen because of no guidance."

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.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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Grant to address mental health concerns in schools – Education Week

Published Online: September 23, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The state department of education has received $9.1 million in federal grant funds to help address mental health issues in school-age children.

The grant is set to run for five years, with $1.8 million to be distributed annually.

Todd Brocious is an education specialist with the department.

He says the money will go toward districtwide training in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Kenai, aimed at early intervention. It also will help provide more resources at alternative schools in those districts. Brocious says that includes additional staff to work with students.

Brocious says states were limited to three districts in their applications and there were population size requirements. He says the department also looked at the concentration of alternative schools in deciding what districts it would focus on.


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