The legislature's mixed bag: An assessment from family advocates | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The legislature's mixed bag: An assessment from family advocates

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 8:01 AM

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Here's the legislative assessment from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a mixed bag.

The group emphasizes, first, some positives, mostly small-bore pieces of legislation, but including a small tax cut for working poor.

But: Pre-K education, while finally getting more money, got only a little. The increase in school spending was a tiny 1 percent, well below what legislative researchershad  said was necessary to meet sufficiency standards. Nothing was done about highway funding.

Scrimping isn't surprising. The legislature, counting this session, has passed more than $300 million in tax cuts since 2013. Next year's budget puts most of the increase in spending in a secondary budget category that will be the first cut if revenues continue to lag.

Worse than simple arithmetic is attitude. Says AACF:

Finally, this session saw an acceleration of several disturbing trends begun in previous sessions. One is the continuing attack on poor and working families. Numerous bills were introduced this session to either reduce benefits or make it more difficult for working/low-income families to access social safety net programs that are so important to child and family well-being. Although most of these bills did not pass, several did and will impact important safety net programs, including TANF (the state’s welfare program), Unemployment Insurance, and SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). In contrast, other good bills that would have improved tenants’ rights for renters and helped stop wage theft for working families failed this session.

The other trend was the continuing attack on public education, at least by some elements in the legislature. Not only was public education inadequately funded, but several constitutional amendments were proposed that would have usurped the ability of state courts to mandate policy changes or funding increases in future lawsuits brought against the state. Fortunately, those proposed amendments did not pass. The legislature also took steps this session to expand privatization and school choice at the expense of traditional public schools. Vouchers for special needs children were expanded and a new voucher program for foster children was created. Only a major lobbying effort prevented the adoption of a so-called “pilot” voucher program for other students that would have opened the door for expanded voucher systems in future years. Finally, the legislature defeated good bills that would have improved accountability and transparency for the state’s growing charter school system.
There's this: They're gone.

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