(The Center Square) – Arkansas takes on a larger share of education funding than any other state in the region, lawmakers heard during a joint education committee meeting Monday.
The Natural State provides 51% of per pupil spending for public K-12 education compared to Mississippi at 50% and Tennessee at 48%. Louisiana contributes 44%, Texas 38% and Missouri 31%, according to the Education Commission of the States, an education policy research organization.
Local sources provide 38% of Arkansas education funding, and 11% is federal.
While Arkansas shells out a higher percentage than its neighbors, less money is spent on students overall. Arkansas’ per pupil expenditures for public K-12 is $12,139, compared to the national average of $15,518.
On average, state governments cover about 47% of public education spending, while local sources cover 45%, and the federal government provides 8% of the funding, according to ECS data.
There were nearly 170 K-12 funding bills enacted in all but two states in 2023, according to Christopher Duncombe, a senior policy analyst for ECS.
“We identified three common trends in our research of areas where states have been making a lot of changes,” Duncombe said. “The first has been in their funding formulas, most often making changes to that base level of funding per student factoring in levels of inflation. We’ve identified ranges of 3-8% for inflation. States have also adjusted funding allocations for certain student populations. The most common was for special education services.”
Another legislative trend identified in school spending was changing how states count students for funding purposes, Duncombe said.
“Due to declining enrollment in many districts, states have helped districts kind of cushion the blow from those decreases over concerns that it could drop level of services or staffing in those districts by either providing some type of hold harmless policy or blended student count over several years,” said Duncombe.
Arkansas passed sweeping education changes earlier this year with the LEARNS Act, including provisions for universal school choice and raising teacher pay. The legislation means a $298 million investment in the first year – an increase of $150 million.
Rep. Bruce Cozart told lawmakers about another education bill he’s eyeing ahead of the 2024 legislative session during Monday’s meeting.
House Bill 1689, which died in the Senate during the last legislative session, would amend the Public School Funding Act of 2003 to focus on investing in student achievement.
Cozart said his bill would “walk side-to-side” with the LEARNS Act if passed.
“This will actually reinforce everything that we’ve done in the LEARNS Act. The teacher salaries will fold right into the way that we figure that funding. So there’s nothing that would take away from the LEARNS Act, we just have to coordinate everything together,” said Cozart.