Back to school -- UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Back to school -- UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2007 at 5:56 PM

With the grocery tax cut, an increase in the homestead tax exemption due for signing tomorrow and progress being made on an income tax cut for the poor (and how could I forget the tax break for manufacturers, who otherwise might jerk up their paper mills and move them to Iowa), it is at last time for education.

My apologies at the outset. I've had a funeral, a business meeting outside the office and closing day on the print edition. So blogging has been behind and about all I know for sure is that Gov. Beebe's education legislation was filed today, here and that the work of the adequacy study also was filed here. (TUESDAY MORNING UPDATE: Some bad links have been fixed.) I wasn't able to nail down a full interpretation before I had to leave the office, so I'm hoping an informed legislator or someone else in the blogging community might be on-line with a quick primer.

I do know this much: the increase per pupil is $108 the first year of the budget cycle, an increase of less than 2 percent from the current $5,662, and then it will rise $106 the next year, again well below 2 percent. But these increases also include money that could be one-time expenditures, not continuing support, so it might not even be so grand as it seems.

The important thing is that the legislature has declared this amount meets the adequacy test of the Supreme Court. And, in truth, that's for the legislature to decide. What will it pay for? Is it sufficient to hire quality teachers in the Delta and teacher the 38 high school units everywhere? That's not so clear. Time will tell.

By way of comparison, please note that legislators have given themselves a 2 percent raise in each of the next two years of the budget cycle, 4.2 percent more over two years compared with 3.5 percent in a shaky increase, at least as to continuing value, for spending on kids. So we know that to achieve adequacy in education requires less of a raise than your legislators require.

FUN WITH MATH: It's all how you spin it, see? Here's the lead on Stephens Media, perfectly accurate:

Legislation that would increase puiblic school funding by more than $200 per student over the next two years was filed Tuesday by the chairman of House Education Committee.

But did anybody think to write a lead on the legislative pay raise story earlier this sessions that said "Legislation that would increase legislative pay by more than $560 per legislator over the next two years was filed Tuesday by the chairman of the Joint Budget Committee."

UPDATE: I still don't think we've seen the last analysis of these numbers. A legislator we trust says the numbers above -- which aren't so impressive -- are even less impressive than they appear. I think school people will say the effort is lacking. But I think they'll be shouting in the wind and, legally, the effort seems likely to pass muster. Is this a history-repeating start of a gradually diminishing effort? It doesn't take a crystal ball.

Rep. Harrelson's blog offers a cautious assessment of the two bills, read in tandem.

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