Changes in facilities funding requested
Gov. Asa Hutchinson told an advisory group Tuesday that the state can no longer maintain its current level of funding for public school facilities and asked it to recommend changes.
“We’ve been going down a path in terms of facility funding that needs to be adjusted,” Hutchinson said to the Advisory Committee on Public School Academic Facilities, which met Tuesday.
Since 2006, about $ 3.2 billion has been put toward academic space in the state’s traditional
public school districts, with $1.1 billion of that from the state. This is the result of a state Supreme Court decision, Lake View School District No. 25 v. Huckabee, that declared Arkansas’ system of funding public schools inequitable, inadequate and unconstitutional. The decision resulted in legislation that created a partnership funding agreement for facilities between the school districts and the state.
But things have changed since 2006, and the average of about $100 million put toward school buildings each year is unsustainable, Hutchinson said.
“You’ve got to think about how do people learn today differently, and how should facilities be adjusted to be more efficient in light of how people learn,” he said. “We can’t sustain that every year after we meet the needs of our state whenever you take $100 million of growth money, of new money, and say it’s going in facilities.”
Brad Montgomery, Arkansas Division of Public School Academic Facilities director, said he has heard the governor recommend restructuring public school funding since January. Though the state’s public schools have come a long way since the Lake View decision, Montgomery said, some schools still have a ways to go.
“We’ll have to roll up our sleeves and try our best,” he said.
The $ 3.2 billion funded 2,453 projects throughout the state, Montgomery said. These included fixing heating and air conditioning systems, fire alarms, electricity, plumbing and structural issues, as well as building new schools to accommodate growth and to replace outdated facilities.
Montgomery especially remembered visiting a new elementary school in the Centerpoint School District in Amity, about an hour and a half southwest of Little Rock.
“That community is so proud of the elementary facility that was built,” he said. “It’s just amazing what a new school building can do for a community. As much as we can, we need to continue that throughout the state.”
In 2006, Montgomery said, two programs were already in place because of a 2004 assessment: an immediate repair program for all schools statewide that provided $28 million and a transition program to renovate school facilities for other purposes that provided $86 million.
Now, he said, school districts in the northwest part of the state are experiencing the most growth, while schools in the south and east need the most maintenance work.
Two committee members, Lakenya Riley and John Hoy, also raised concern for schools in the Delta region during the meeting. Riley is a member of the Strong-Huttig School Board and Hoy is the Helena-West Helena School District superintendent.
Hoy said that because the state provides school funding based on each school’s wealth index, which takes into account the amount of money allotted per student, schools with declining enrollment might not receive the state funding they need.
“Our wealth index went up because we lost enrollment, but our students’ needs didn’t go down,” Hoy said.
Montgomery said the committee will review the partnership program as well as the statewide assessment, wealth index, ranking process and rules that deal with facility funding, then develop a report to present to the state executive and legislative branches by July 31, 2018.