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Study: Arkansas schools need more funding in some areas

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(The Center Square) – Arkansas public schools are not receiving enough funding for guidance counselors, substitute teachers and transportation, according to an adequacy study presented to members of the joint education committee Monday.

Public schools spent almost $110 million on guidance counselors last year, $32 million more than received in foundation funding, the study found.

Foundation funding is what the state distributes to each school district on a per-student basis.

More than 50% of superintendents reported they were in moderate or extreme need of more funding for guidance counselors, according to the survey.

Public schools in Arkansas spent over $60 million on substitute teachers in 2023 but only received $35.6 million in foundation funding for substitutes, according to the study.

Schools used other funding sources, including federal, local and other state resources, to cover expenses.

A survey of educators in Arkansas found that 70% of superintendents said their districts were in moderate or extreme need of more funding for substitute teachers.

School foundation fund spending surpassed the funding level for guidance counselors, secretaries, substitute teachers, operations, maintenance and transportation, according to the report.

Rep. Rick Beck, R-Center Ridge, commented on how several other spending categories followed a different pattern where school districts were not using their full foundation funding amount but still reported a lack of funds.

For example, public schools were allocated $46.3 million in foundation funding for nurses but only spent $25.5 million of that on nurses. However, when all funding sources were taken into account, schools spent a total of $61 million on nurses.

“They reported that they needed more money, and they didn’t spend the money that we basically provided in the foundation funding,” said Beck.

Representatives from the Bureau of Legislative Research said the foundation funding is not a spending requirement but a funding model. In other words, the funding is unrestricted, and the state does not specify how school districts may or may not use the foundation funding.

“It’s hard for us to understand where you need money, what we’re underfunding I should say, if every category comes up, ‘We need the money for this,’ (and) you don’t even spend the money that we give you because you’re taking that money somewhere else,” Beck said. “I’m not even saying that’s inappropriate for them to do that because they obviously understand what they need. But to give us, the legislators, a better feeling of what’s going on.”

Legislators use the adequacy study to determine the per-student funding amount for school districts.

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