Schools briefed on gain, loss of fed­eral aid for 2017-18

Es­ti­mates show mixed bag for dis­tricts in Ar­kan­sas

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - CYN­THIA HOW­ELL

The Ar­kan­sas De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion has re­leased es­ti­mated fed­eral grant amounts for school dis­tricts in 2017-18 that re­flect fund­ing for­mula changes in a new fed­eral law and the pop­u­la­tion shifts within the state.

The state’s once small but now rapidly grow­ing school sys­tems are more likely to see in­creases in their fed­eral grants for poor stu­dents, spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and teacher train­ing, while other dis­tricts could see de­clines as com­pared with fund­ing lev­els in past years if the es­ti­mates are ac­cu­rate, Ar­kan­sas Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment lead­ers said last week.

The af­fected fed­eral grant pro­grams in­clude the Ti­tle I pro­gram that sup­ple­ments in­struc­tional costs for schools that have high per­cent­ages

of stu­dents from low-in­come fam­i­lies, the Ti­tle II pro­gram that pro­vides fund­ing for im­prov­ing teacher qual­ity and the Ti­tle VI-B spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram.

Of the three, Ti­tle I is the largest grant pro­gram with some $156 mil­lion al­lo­cated last year to Ar­kan­sas, said Amy Thomas, fed­eral fi­nance co­or­di­na­tor at the Ar­kan­sas Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment. Ti­tle II fund­ing to the state totals about $20 mil­lion, and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is about $100 mil­lion a year.

The Springdale dis­trict, the state’s sec­ond-largest sys­tem, is pro­jected to re­ceive $5.44 mil­lion in Ti­tle I aid next year, down by al­most $60,000 from this year’s al­lo­ca­tion.

The Ben­tonville dis­trict is pro­jected to see an $86,288 de­cline in Ti­tle I funds to $1,218,757 and a drop of al­most $95,000 — to $2,651,725 — in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion aid.

The Lit­tle Rock School Dis­trict, the state’s largest school sys­tem with about 24,000 stu­dents, is pro­jected to re­ceive $8,023,164 in Ti­tle I fund­ing in the com­ing year. That’s a de­crease of $524,379 as com­pared with this year’s al­lo­ca­tion of $8,547,544. The dis­trict is also to re­ceive $5,674,143 for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and $1,029,680 in Ti­tle II aid.

The Pu­laski County Spe­cial School Dis­trict, which saw a Ti­tle I al­lo­ca­tion of about $3.2 mil­lion for this school year, is pro­jected

to see a drop of $ 219,522, down to $2.985 mil­lion in Ti­tle I fund­ing, and a drop of $180,249 in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing to a to­tal of $2.6 mil­lion. Ti­tle II aid is es­ti­mated at $447,283.

“To tell you the truth, I’m glad it’s no worse than that,” Pu­laski County Spe­cial’s Su­per­in­ten­dent Jerry Guess said Fri­day about Ti­tle I and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion funds. “And it’s bad. It’s $400,000. I was afraid that it would be worse than that. I just didn’t have any idea.”

Guess and other su­per­in­ten­dents con­tacted Fri­day said they had learned of the new distri­bu­tion for­mu­las at an Ar­kan­sas As­so­ci­a­tion of Ed­u­ca­tional Ad­min­is­tra­tors meet­ing ear­lier in the week but didn’t get the dol­lar amounts for their in­di­vid­ual school sys­tems.

“We had heard … that changes were com­ing,” Guess said. “We un­der­stood there would be a dif­fer­ent distri­bu­tion of those funds based on changes to the for­mula.”

The drop in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, will cause his dis­trict to have to fill in the gap with other dis­trict funds, Guess said.

“If we’re fund­ing a pro­gram that’s a com­bi­na­tion of fed­eral and lo­cal money, and the fed­eral money gets cut, we have to make up for it be­cause we can’t cut our ser­vices,” he said. “So, yes, we’ll have to make it up.”

Also in Pu­laski County, the North Lit­tle Rock School Dis­trict is pro­jected to see a de­crease of $70,340 in Ti­tle I money, down from $3.8 mil­lion, and the loss of about $2,507 in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing.

The po­ten­tial de­creases in fed­eral fund­ing to the Lit­tle Rock, North Lit­tle Rock and Pu­laski County Spe­cial dis­tricts come at a time when the three sys­tems are re­duc­ing their ex­pen­di­tures an­nu­ally to pre­pare for the sched­uled end to state de­seg­re­ga­tion aid. The de­seg­re­ga­tion aid — $37.3 mil­lion a year to Lit­tle Rock, $20.8 mil­lion to Pu­laski County Spe­cial and $7.6 mil­lion to North Lit­tle Rock — will end af­ter the 2017-18 school year be­cause of a Jan­uary 2014 agree­ment in a long-run­ning fed­eral school de­seg­re­ga­tion law­suit.

Else­where in Ar­kan­sas, the pro­jected amounts of fed­eral fund­ing for next year are a mixed bag.

The He­lena-West He­lena School Dis­trict is to see an $87,785 re­duc­tion to $1,166,439 in Ti­tle I money for sup­port­ing the ed­u­ca­tion of stu­dents from low in­come fam­i­lies.

Su­per­in­ten­dent John Hoy said a re­duc­tion of fed­eral fund­ing to his 1,396-stu­dent Mis­sis­sippi River Delta dis­trict is just one of sev­eral fi­nan­cial fac­tors to be dealt with in the com­ing weeks and months.

“I know with where we are right now we have to look at the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­duc­tion in force any­way be­cause of the num­ber of stu­dents we have lost over the years,” Hoy said. “We’ve got sev­eral ad­just­ments we’re try­ing to make around here this year,” he added.

The Pine Bluff School Dis­trict’s pro­jected Ti­tle I fund­ing is $2,346,837, down $ 188,706 from the cur­rent year fund­ing level. The spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is pro­jected to be $1,043,383, down $5,684 from this year.

Some dis­tricts can ex­pect to see their fed­eral grants rise by tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

The Ti­tle I al­lo­ca­tion in the Bryant School Dis­trict is pro­jected to grow from $948,278 to $966,836. Ti­tle II fund­ing for im­prov­ing teacher qual­ity is to in­crease by about $ 50,000, but spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is likely to drop by $33,773 if the pro­jec­tions are cor­rect, dis­trict spokesman Devin Sher­rill said Fri­day.

Sher­rill said there are no plans yet for how the Bryant dis­trict will use the money in the in­creased cat­e­gories.

“We didn’t find out about it un­til [last] week,” she said, “and we were think­ing it was go­ing to be less rather than more.”

The nearby Ben­ton School Dis­trict is pro­jected to re­ceive $618,472 in Ti­tle I money, up from $602,357 this year.

The Greenwood dis­trict is pro­jected to re­ceive $661,458 in Ti­tle I money, up from $651,949.

The Cabot School Dis­trict, which was al­lo­cated $1,212,417 in Ti­tle I money for this year, could see that in­crease by $30,218 to $1,242,635 next year. But the spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing is pro­jected to drop by $49,179 to $1.8 mil­lion.

Congress and then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in late 2015 reau­tho­rized the fed­eral El­e­men­tary and Se­condary Ed­u­ca­tion Act, which had been known as the No Child Left Be­hind Act and is now ti­tled the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act. The new act pre­scribed changes in fed­eral fund­ing for­mu­las that had not been al­tered for many years, said Thomas, the Ar­kan­sas fed­eral fi­nance co­or­di­na­tor.

“It’s huge,” Thomas said about the re­sults of fed­eral al­ter­ations. “Ti­tle I has some sig­nif­i­cant changes to the set-aside re­quire­ments at the state level. And Ti­tle II’s for­mula is fun­da­men­tally chang­ing.”

Re­quire­ments in the Ti­tle I pro­gram pre­vi­ously re­sulted in state’s pulling out or set­ting aside 4 per­cent of its al­lo­ca­tion for sep­a­rate school im­prove­ment grants. That with­hold­ing has now in­creased to 7 per­cent — even if the with­hold­ing causes some dis­tricts to re­ceive less aid than in the pre­vi­ous year, Thomas said. In sub­se­quent years, af­ter 2017-18, a dis­trict will be as­sured of not re­ceiv­ing less than it re­ceives in the 2017-18 school year.

At the same time that the 4 per­cent fig­ure is in­creas­ing to 7 per­cent for spend­ing on school im­prove­ment ef­forts, a for­merly sep­a­rate school im­prove­ment rev­enue pro­gram, 1003-A, is be­ing rolled into Ti­tle I totals.

“What we don’t know is whether the feds will put some ex­tra money in there to com­pen­sate for that se­condary pro­gram,” Thomas said. “What we have done is held fund­ing steady and taken it. We don’t re­ally have any­thing else to go on. These are rough es­ti­mates.”

In re­gard to the Ti­tle II grants for im­prov­ing teacher qual­ity, there is no longer any base fund­ing amount that dis­tricts are as­sured of re­ceiv­ing ev­ery year, Thomas said. Eighty per­cent of the money will be dis­trib­uted based on the num­ber of stu­dents in a dis­trict who are clas­si­fied as be­ing from low in­come fam­i­lies and 20 per­cent based on pop­u­la­tion.

The es­ti­mated 2017-18 fed­eral fund­ing al­lo­ca­tions can be viewed on­line, by click­ing on the Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act link on the Ar­kan­sas Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment’s web­site: arkansased.gov.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.