The federal sequestration spending cuts that took effect March 1 will cost Arkansas $18.5 million in 2013, says a release from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
A bit more than half the money will be cut from Title I programs for disadvantaged students. Early childhood education such as Head Start also has taken a hit.
More details follow.
Thanks to Clinton vet Ben Mays, a former member of the state Board of Education and a long-time critic of Arkansas school districts that spend execessively on athletics, for this nugget.
You may remember that the state of Arkansas last week took over management of the Mineral Springs School District because of persistent budget problems.
He digs up this item from summer 2011. It's an article from arkansasvarsity.comabout how the tiny school district had splurged on a big-time artificial turf football field.
When a school transitions from a traditional field to an all turf playing surface, the switch is usually a costly and labor intensive one. Rarely does a school make it out of the move for less than $700-800,000.
While that sum isn't an insurmountable obstacle for a big school, it's a fairly shocking one for one of the smallest schools in the state, which is precisely what Mineral Springs (Ark.) High is. Despite those size constraints, the Hornets will play their first quasi-competitive game on their new field turf football stadium on Thursday, when Mineral Springs hosts fellow Arkansas Class 2A squad Poyen.
"Man, I have never been this excited for an upcoming season," Mineral Springs head coach Vince Perrin told GeoSurfaces.com, the web site for the Field Turf company which installed the school's new turf. "We have made incredible strides in this program and this is just icing on the cake. I can't wait to get started."
The fact that Mineral Springs chose to install the new turf while other districts around the country are slashing any and all discretionary funding from prospective school budgets makes the new field all the more surprising.
Mays commented in an e-mail to current state board members:
Just a little nagging reminder of how school districts suddenly run out of money. I guess they'll just have to cut back on all those over-paid teachers now—all but the coaching staff that is.
The district website shows the school has a football coach/athletic director and six assistant football coaches. The team went 10-4 last season, a good bit better showing than the accounting department.
State Education Director Tom Kimbrell has ordered state takeover of the Mineral Springs-Saratoga School District, including dissolving of the school board, because of money problems.
Arkansas Education Commissioner Dr. Tom Kimbrell today exercised his authority under state law to dissolve the school board of the Mineral Springs School District.
The action was taken to immediately move toward stabilizing the finances and management of the troubled district in Howard County. The district is facing a severe budget deficit and does not have sufficient cash flow to finish the district’s fiscal year.
"This action was necessary to keep Mineral Springs public schools operating and serving students despite the district's extreme financial difficulties," Dr. Kimbrell said. “Our number one concern is the education of the students in this community. For the future of the district, students and the staff, state action had to be taken now.”
Dr. Kimbrell and other key ADE staff arrived in Mineral Springs this morning to inform acting superintendent, Bill Blackwood, of the changes in district governance. Blackwood has agreed to stay on board until Kimbrell appoints a new superintendent.
Steps have been taken to secure school records and to ensure district operations will continue uninterrupted.
The State Board placed the district in fiscal distress in December, 2012. Under the Omnibus Quality Education Act of 2003, the education commissioner has authority to exercise a state takeover of districts in fiscal distress that don't adequately address their problems.
You might recall the district had its previous superintendent suspended last fall after the Education Department discovered it was operating a phantom high school at Saratoga. The district in Howard County has about 500 students. Blackwood came out of retirement this school year to act as interim for the district, which recently accepted 11 teacher resignations because of money troubles.
I'm going to be out of pocket most of the day winding my way home. So proceed at your own risk and speed. Not much to report this morning;
* SCHOOL CHOICE MEANS WHAT? A good rundown in Stephens Media on another poorly constructed law (see the handgun "journey" law) that appears to raise far more questions than it answers. It's the cobbled up compromise to preserve "school choice," or the system that has been heavily used to allow children to flee school districts unacceptable to their parents for a variety of reasons — often race, sometimes football, sometimes class, sometimes even academic reasons. I like the legal theory that, since Arkansas fought so hard to ignore the dictates of Brown v. Board of Education and still has a shameful legacy to show for it, that transfers simply to live in a more agreeable racial setting ought to continue to be suspect. Antonin Scalia and the Billionaire Boys Club might disagree.
The Arkansas legislature just passed a new school choice law to replace one contested in federal court in a case that began over students who wanted to transfer from Malvern to whiter schools in Magnet Cove.
Is that old law now moot? That's the question the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals posed today in a brief order asking for supplemental briefs in the case:
The court believes that supplemental briefing would be helpful in this case in light of the Arkansas legislature's repeal of the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 1989 and passage of the Public School Choice Act of 2013. Parties and intervenors, and any interested amici, are directed to submit simultaneous supplemental briefs of no more than 15 pages due May 22, addressing whether this appeal is moot in light of the enactment of the Public School Choice Act of 2013.
Briefs should address, among other points of interest to the authors, whether the conduct challenged in the complaint continues under the new law, see N.E. Fla. Chapter of Assoc. Gen. Contractors v. City of Jacksonville, 508 U.S. 656, 662 & n.3 (1993), the application of the "voluntary cessation doctrine," see, e.g., Northeastern Florida, 508 U.S. at 661-62, City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289 (1982), and, if the appeal is moot, the appropriateness of vacatur of the district court's judgment. See, e.g., U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership, 513 U.S. 18 (1994).
A federal judge had said the old Arkansas law, which prohibited transfers that contributed to resegregation, didn't meet race-blind dictates of the U.S. Supreme Court. In in the interim, the thousands of children already using the choice program were allowed to stay at the transfer districts.
The legislature passed compromise legislation. It allows free choice, with some asterisks. 1) There's a cap on transfers of 3 percent of enrollment; 2) districts can opt out of choice if they say they are "subject to the desegregation order or mandate of a federal court or agency remedying the effects of past racial segregation.”
Several schools districts, such as El Dorado and Camden Fairview, have already served notice that they will opt out of choice. These are districts that have long contended that free choice would cause resegregation. Other districts are considering an opt-out. School districts in Pulaski County remain enmeshed in a desegregation case, particularly the Pulaski County Special School District, which has yet to be declared "unified," or desegregated. UPDATE: These four districts have officially submitted opt-out resolutions — Blytheville, Camden-Fairview, El Dorado and Hope. The El Dorado school board's resolution is typical of what can be expected.
A larger question looms, I'm told, about what exactly the opt-out provision means. How recent must a district have been in court? One lawyer who's active in school law has even argued that the entire state, given the mandate to end segregation. The four districts that have already asked to opt out all cite the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the 1969 directive from the federal Department of Health Education and Welfare to end segregated schools. These antecedents apply, at least arguably, to any district in the state.
At a minimum, the ambiguity of the law is certain to prompt school board discussions — and likely some lawsuits — in the future. Parents might have cause to seek intervention for or against choice when administrators, for political reasons, make decisions with which they disagree. Springdale is a particular sore spot. It's never been involved in a school desegregation lawsuit, but its leaders have long feared it could lose hundreds of students to neighboring school districts fleeing Springdale's rising Latino population.
The law provides no review process on these opt-out requests. The state Education director apparently is merely expected to accept them. Else that state official take the risk of being seen as moving back into the state's well-established history of abetting segregation.
Meanwhile, still, there's the old law. Some legislators had favored waiting for a decision there before moving ahead with this year's legislation. My education sources say it's generally believed that the old law is moot thanks to the new law and that the 8th Circuit will never rule on the lower court's ruling on the old law.
But that's what briefs and decisions are for. The wheels of justice are grinding.
School Superintendent Mitch Walton has issued a statement posted at the website, which triggered this news event in the first place. In short, he says everybody has it wrong and Imboden will never again have outside commercement speakers. The statement:
Sloan-Hendrix has had individuals to speak at graduation in the past. Contrary to what has been said, no invitation was extended this year to anyone. As superintendent, I have the authority to decide about who the speaker will be or whether we have a speaker at all. The school board does not vote on speakers for graduation.
This year, Mr. Steve Huddleston, a board member, suggested his son as a speaker. Bryant Huddleston graduated from Sloan-Hendrix in 1990 and went on to success in the entertainment industry. He was never invited by me to be the graduation speaker. After visiting informally with board members, no agreement was reached as to who should be invited to speak. Therefore, my decision was to do what had been discussed in the past—to discontinue the use of outside speakers and thereby shorten an already lengthy graduation program.
Sloan-Hendrix has exceptional graduates. Graduation this year and in the future will feature only student speakers. Graduation is a celebration of the accomplishments of Sloan- Hendrix students and a time to let those students shine for their families and the community at large. We welcome the presence of everyone in the community to share in this event.
Superintendent Sloan-Hendrix School District
Bryant Huddleston commented on Facebook:
I read it over the phone to my father. He blew out my right ear from laughter
I also will add some relative links about past practice on graduation speakers.
In 2005, a state representative, David Cook.
In 2006, the man who's now head of the state Education Department, Tom Kimbrell.
In 2007, a Pocahontas doctor.
In 2009, a minister from the Imboden Church of Christ.
In 2010, an official from Williams Baptist College.
In 2011, a director of communication for Entergy Services.
In 2012, Paul Austin, an Imboden native and director of the Arkansas Humanities Council.
Don't know about 2008. Maybe somebody tried to sneak some gay in that year, too, and no agreement could be reached.
PS — "visiting informally with school board members." If two members were present in any discussions — formal or informal — the superintendent was in violation of the state open meetings law. Round-robin conversations to avoid the open meetings law can also be problematic when decisions are reached in such a fashion.
From the legislature this afternoon:
* FETUS FRENZY: By a 19-11 vote, the Senate today approved a bill aimed at stopping state funding to Planned Parenthood. The bill would restrict spending on any agency that refers or otherwise countenances abortion and the sponsor made it clear in committee that was the purpose — to punish Planned Parenthood, one reason that the bill is constitutionally suspect. The practical effect is to stop spending on some sex education programs aimed at preventing HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.
UPDATE: See jump for Planned Parenthood's response to the vote. But note particularly this part:
This bill is much broader than other state efforts to restrict women’s health funding. If enacted this legislation could prohibit public funds through the state for not only doctors who provide abortion, but anyone that refers for abortion, or contracts with an entity which does. That means, domestic violence shelters or rape crisis centers that provide referrals for abortion could be in danger of losing funding.
Jason Rapert and them, who worship the 2nd Amendment, kindly don't like the 1st Amendment when it comes to talking about stuff they don't like.
* SCHOOL ELECTIONS: The House today defeated legislation to move school elections to November. The vote was 32-42 and three not voting.
School elections are now held in September and generally restricted to school issues. Turnout is invariably light, even on tax increases, when compared with regular elections. School officials like the separate elections because they tend to draw only people who follow schools closely. The fear — or hope in some cases — is that broad participation in school elections in the years in which regular elections occur will bring reflexive anti-tax votes from people who have no children in schools.
The bill passed the Senate earlier.
* NONPARTISAN PROSECUTORS: The Senate approved a bill originating in the House to have prosecuting attorneys run for office on a non-partisan basis.
* AS CAPITOL ZONING TURNS: The bill by Republican Nate Bell of Mena to abolish the Capitol Zoning District Commission because he doesn't like its fence rule will be up in committee tomorrow. The downtown preservation community is organizing to protest this incursion on sound planning. Meanwhile, at least the hold on the commission's appropriation has been lifted and approved by both houses.
The Arkansas state Board of Education is meeting today. So far, it has found the Lee County and Strong-Huttig school districts in academic distress and the Hughes district in fiscal distress.
I didn't see the meeting, but a spectator said the Board also gave the Covenant Keepers charter school at 8300 Geyer Springs Road in Little Rock a three-year renewal for grades 6-8, but it will close its high school. It's going to relocate to the former Dreamland charter school facility and report to the board on progress in October. Covenant Keepers was placed on probationary status last year after a financial audit.
You just have to follow Diane Ravitch if you live in this land of Stepford legislators who accept pronouncements from the Billionaire Boys Club school reform lobby as holy writ. If a Walton says it — or somebody paid by the Waltons — it must be so. There is another side.
Speaking of the Waltons:
They finance a school up at the University of Arkansas's Walton branch campus in Fayetteville dedicated to churning out support for the BBC's anti-union, pro-voucher, pro-charter, pro-obsessive-testing political movement.
So it's interesting to read Ravitch's conclusion that school vouchers don't work when her opinion is based on research by Patrick Wolf of the Walton think tank at UAF (he gets an endowed chair, thanks to Walton money, in "school choice," if that gives you any idea what he's expected to favor). Ravitch:
Now that 17 states have authorized vouchers to “save kids from failing schools,” it is time to review the evidence from Milwaukee, which has had vouchers for 22 years.
The “independent evaluator” of the Milwaukee and D.C. voucher programs is Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas. As we learned during school choice week earlier this year, Wolf is a strong supporter of school choice and he even wrote an editorial saying that his home state of Minnesota needs more school choice because it was in danger of falling behind Arkansas in doing so. How much more independent can an evaluator be? It is perhaps also noteworthy that the University of Arkansas is generously funded by Arkansas’s biggest philanthropy, the Walton Foundation, which pours millions every year into charters and vouchers and anything that has the possibility of undermining public schools.
Not even Wolf’s evaluations have shown any test score advantage for students who get vouchers, whether in DC or Milwaukee.
Fair is fair, Luke. Why not pay to have Ravitch come down to talk when you're running some of the Waltons' school bills in the Arkansas legislature. You can afford it.
He's also lead sponsor of HB 2290, which would strip the governor of sole power to appoint the nine members of the state Board of Education and give the majority of appointments to legislative leaders — three each to the House and Senate leaders.
The law would immediately oust the current board. What's the rush?
The Republican sponsorship might reflect nothing more than work in service to the Billionaire Boys Club's desire to take over school regulation in Arkansas, particularly by opening the door wide to charter schools. Walton money is powering the "school reform" effort. Dotson is from the hometown of Walmart heir Jim Walton, the leader of the effort to remake public schools through charter schools and other options aimed at breaking up conventional public schools, particularly in districts like Little Rock with stronger teacher organizations.
The state Board has approved most charter school applications, but has moved judiciously and toughly in recent times. The Waltons' paid lobbyists want unfettered approval of charters, arguing that the failures will become self-evident and be closed.
There's a secondary issue on this Board of Education takeover. Some opponents of the legislation suspect that the motivation is also to force Gov. Beebe to pick and choose among the existing membership, two-thirds of them his appointees, when naming three of the nine members.
Is the intent to make him NOT pick Jay Barth, the Hendrix professor, as a continuing member of the board? Barth's appointment met criticism from conservative Christian (Republican) political activists because he is gay.
I asked Dotson and Hester, also from Bentonville and also a lead sponsor, if Barth's sexual orientation is any factor in the desire to reshape the board. Dotson says no. He hasn't responded to my question about whether he had ever talked with the Family Council or anyone else about the sexual orientation of a member of the state Board of Education. I haven't heard back from Hester.
UPDATE: Dotson says he doesn't even known any of the current state Board members. His bill, he said, is a "good government bill." In response to my question, he said:
I did not discuss the bill with Family Council before introducing it, but they seem to be one of the groups who like it. You will have to speak with them directly to see why. I welcome any support for one of my bills I can find, are you suggesting I ask them to come speak for it?
UPDATE II: Hester said he presumed anyone appointed by Gov. Beebe was capable and he was "not aware" of who I might be talking about.
Sexual politics aside, this is a bad idea. It would make, I'm told, Arkansas the only state where membership of an education commission is controlled by the legislative branch. It would put an executive agency under legislative control.
Gubernatorial appointments to this particular board have worked particularly well over the years, from Clinton to Huckabee to Beebe, with many others in between. They've been an uncommon list of dedicated, hard-working and unpaid public servants, even those I've had occasion to disagree with philosophically (and, yes, I also mean to praise Luke Gordy, now a paid lobbyist for the Walton-financed school movement).
This is a bad idea on the merits; terrible if even a scintilla of homophobia is involved. School administrators and other school people formed a coalition to force a compromise on the Walton charter school regulation bill — moving it to state Education Department employees rather than a legislatively controlled independent commission as originally tried. If they don't form similar opposition on this bill, they'll see a change in governance that will do a whole lot more than effectively put in place the legislatively controlled structure they wanted in the first place for charter school approval and review. Legislative meddling in the Education Department will become epidemic.
It's uncertain when Dotson will try to get the bill approved in committee, but it's on the Education Committee agenda.
The State Board of Education voted 5-2 this morning to close Weiner High School, which includes grades 7-12. The Harrisburg School District had petitioned to close the campus.
The Harrisburg School Board asked the state board to close the Weiner school, annexed into the Harrisburg district in 2010, and move its grades to Harrisburg campuses to save money.
The board also voted, unanimously, to approve a conversion charter in the Bauxite School District. Miner Academy will serve grades 6-12. Follow the ADE blog here.
Concluding a nationwide search, University of Arkansas System President Donald Bobbitt will nominate Laurence Alexander, an associate dean at the University of Florida, to be chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. If the board of trustees approves, Alexander would begin in July. Press release after the jump.
Starting today at 12:30, the Little Rock School District will be hosting the first of four one-hour meet-and-greet sessions with the top candidates for LRSD superintendent, with the general public encouraged to attend. The session will follow a morning of candidate interviews with the Little Rock School Board.
Following the public session, each candidate will meet with parents and PTA representatives for an hour, followed by an hour session with teachers and Teachers' Union representatives.
Full press release with more details on the jump.
Black students in Arkansas schools are more likely to be suspended and receive corporal punishment than their white counterparts, according to a new report from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF). In 2012 black students were given out-of-school suspension more than five times as often as white students, in-school-suspension almost three times as often, and corporal punishment almost twice as often.
Arkansas ranks 15th in the nation in the use of out-of-school suspension for all students, and 13th in the gap between black and white students in out-of-school suspensions. When students are not in school, they miss out on educational opportunities. School disciplinary policies that disproportionately keep students of color out of school reduce their opportunities to learn and increase gaps in educational achievement. According to the report, “Keeping Kids in Class: Fixing Racial Disparities in School Discipline,” Arkansas schools rely far too often on disciplinary approaches that keep too many of our students out of school, thus limiting their opportunity to learn.
I've reported periodically on a topic of current controversy in Conway Public Schools. Superintendent Greg Murry temporarily halted campus visits by local church groups after a complaint from the Freedom from Religion Foundation that visitors were using the visits for open evangelizing. Several of the groups disputed that.
Murry ignored his original advice from Arkansas lawyers and brought in to advise him a Texas group, the Liberty Institute, which fights to advance the cause of religion in the public arena.
The Liberty Institute has now filed its report and a recommended visitation policy for Murry to present to the Conway School Board (which has been supportive of religious visitation.)
* THE PROPOSED RULES: Read them here. Visitors would be allowed for approved visitors on a list and, at the middle and high school levels, schools officials would attempt to the extent possible to segregate visitors from the general student body.
* THE LIBERTY INSTITUTE REPORT: It concludes the existing Conway open access visitor policy is constitutional, that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had been misinformed about open religious activities at the Carl Stuart Middle School and that religious groups had not been given unique access, as the complaint said. Nonetheless, it recommended a small change in the visitor policy "to ensure that any confusion as to the nature of the policy is avoided and that the policy cannot be exploited in an unconstitutional manner."
Got it. Nothing to see here. Move along. There is the matter of mothers who've told me — but feared being identified in public — that direct religious proselytizing HAS occurred before their children in the Conway schools. Perhaps the attention to the issue and a restatement of guidelines that are neither hostile to nor establishing of religion will quell the fear I've heard from them. Given Conway's history and the influence of megachurches, that might be a touch optimistic.
DBI, call the CL and ask.
Dr. Billy James Hargis - wasn't he a kiddy diddler who had to resign?
Outlier, wasn't Che a physician as well as a revolutionary?
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