Arkansas Legislative Council: Peer
August 11, 2022
Dismang With that, I’m going to recognize you to just kind of walk through kind of what we’re doing here today and then we’ll bring up the Department of Education.
ALC Staff Thank you, Mr. Chair. In June, ALC approved $500 million in ARP appropriation for the Department of Education for ESSER grants to local school districts. In July, ALC expunged that vote and moved to have the department request the appropriation anew. It was recommended that the new request incorporate teacher retention strategies as advised in a memo from the U.S. Department of Education. On today’s agenda is a request for, is a request for almost $242 million in appropriation. $145 million is grants for– is for grants to 38 school districts. That’s the first line item in that request. $96 million is the department’s allocation, and that’s the second line item in the request. The two pages behind the request show how the department will use their allocation of funds. The second handout you have is a schedule. That’s provided by the department that shows the breakdown of the districts’ responses. Of those 38 school districts, nine districts had plans that met the ALC recommendation. Five districts revised their plans to meet the ALC recommendation. And 24 districts did not revise their plans and justification is provided in the last column. Links to their plans are also provided in the document.
Dismang Members, I’m assuming you have each had a chance to kind of look through, you know, the, the items that have been submitted to us for review today or approval. And with that, I’d be happy to take questions. Seat 75. I apologize.
Wardlaw It’s me, Mr. Chairman. Representative Wardlaw.
Dismang Yes, sir. You’re recognized.
Wardlaw Thank you. I was reading over these requests, and as you just alluded to, I think I got a question for the department, maybe, from–
Dismang Let’s go ahead and have the department come up. That’d be great.
Wardlaw If this is the proper time.
Rogers Greg Rogers. Department of Education.
Pfeffer Ivy Pfeffer, Department of Ed.
Wardlaw Mr. Chair, am I good? Thank you. So looking at number two, I believe the district is Concord. When you look over at their justifications, it says under number 2 that they were in the middle of an HVAC project to improve air quality in their high school. And it was approved by Tim Kane. So what I want to know, was this project approved and done after the June Council meeting or prior to the June Council meeting? Because that money was approved in June as a, as a appropriation. So when, when were they approved for this project to be spent? Was it prior to the appropriation or after the appropriation?
Pfeffer Representative, any of the projects that involved facilities had to get prior approval before they could even start. So I don’t have a listing of when they actually submitted everything to us–
Wardlaw I don’t think you’re understanding what I’m saying. You didn’t have the approval to spend the money in this case until June 17 or June 20, whatever that Council meeting was in June. We rescinded that in July and said we wanted to see where the money went. And that’s where we’re at today. So how did they already have the money going to a project and spending it before you even had the appropriation to spend the money?
Pfeffer I think that would have been from the appropriation that was received in July of ’21.
Wardlaw So this project came to you after June 21, and they had already started an HVAC program in 30 days?
Rogers So, actually what we had, we had the appropriation for ARP funds that were last fiscal year too. We were going through their plans and seeing what plans they had. Obviously HVAC could take up to multiple years to do whatever it was. So it would have been, could have been started in ’21 and carried forward to ’22. Don’t know exactly when they got this approval with Dunn. But as we go back before that, the spending authority that we had, the $500 million in ’21, we were still having to approve plans– or review plans– that because we can’t approve their plans once they say it meets qualification for the ARP ESSER funds. But on the construction, it had to bring before us, before they can start construction.
Dismang And one thing, just a little bit of clarification, I think. We keep talking about the department approving. Y’all technically didn’t approve anything. I don’t even know that you would have had the authority to do an actual approval. I mean, the only approval that happened would have been the approval of the appropriation to spend the money.
Dismang And I know we keep referencing it that this had to be approved, but this was a district decision that you all reviewed. And what you did is, at least as my understanding is, yeah, we think it fits the boxes that are outlined by the federal government.
Dismang Okay. And then as far as– does that make sense? — and then the other thing is the schools developed their plan even in advance of the appropriation. Those were out there. And there’s a lot of confusion, I think. And one reason I want to touch on this is the feds explicitly said if something changes, then change your plan. And I’ve had districts and teachers and others reach out and say, we’ve already got our plan, it’s already approved– which it was never approved by anyone. It was reviewed. And, you know, so we’re already set in our path. Well, the feds said, actually, if there’s something that changes, you need to adjust and move as you need to move based on the needs in your area. So the plan that you had 30 days ago may not be the plan that you have today and maybe should not be the plan today. And so just for clarification, for those that maybe are following along or, you know, participating, because I see it posted over and over again that our plan is set in stone and we’re done. Well, that is the decision of the school district, not what the feds said that you had the latitude to do. You can change and pivot and adjust as needed. So for example– and one of the things I wish we’d have asked for and we did not was — what are the vacancies in some of these districts that did not utilize the funds for retention, bonuses or recruitment? If they have a significant number of vacancies and use it for school buses and HVAC, I mean, that, that is probably something that should be flagged and reviewed and thought about, especially inside at the district level. But again, we don’t have that information to know. Perhaps we should be seeking or the department could seek it in the future or we could get it through ALC. But that’s, that’s the gist of what’s happening there.
Wardlaw Mr. Chair. Just to you, that is– what you said is, is it in a nutshell. And the problem is, is my school districts think that those plans were approved. They don’t understand that these, these appropriations wasn’t approved. And they don’t understand that the feds did say that you should be able to change those plans as needed. So I think what I’m trying to point out is that the department kind of gave a face– a false sense to those districts that their plans were approved and those plans were concrete. And they were not. So I think that point needs to be made very well.
Dismang No, and I agree. I mean, and that’s one of the things if we could reiterate to the districts that they have the latitude to change. I understand if someone’s in a contract and they ordered a school bus six months ago and, you know, and are under obligation to fill that contract. But if they do have outstanding ESSER funds, and I think you’ve seen it be utilized here by several districts, they can pivot and change as needed to, you know, the environment that we’re in. That was the whole point of the ESSER funds and ARP funds was to assist and much more so later on with recruitment and retention with the ARP funds. So I’d be happy to take any additional questions on that. But I’m going to move along to Senator Ingram.
Ingram Thank you. I want to make sure I understand that. Of course, Greg and Ivy, the local districts went through a detailed process to decide what they were going to do with their ESSER ARPA funds. And then once it was reviewed, they were turned loose to spend the money as they saw fit. The thing that Senator Dismang just said I want to make sure that I understand because everything that I read and have been told is that all of this is up to the local school district. It’s not up to the legislature or the SEA to decide. And yes, that local school district can pivot, can make decisions based on what is important locally, but everything I read, that’s their decision. It’s not the decision of the legislature or the State Department of Education to make them pivot. Am I missing something here?
Rogers Senator, I mean, yes, that– part of the plan– when they made their plans to develop their plans, was to receive stakeholder involvement, too. So they had to be working with their communities, working within their school district to see what they needed to, where they needed to use those ESSER funds for. If during that time the priorities in the school district were seeing a change, they absolutely could change their plan. They’ve worked with our Public School Accountability Office to update those plans. We had plans that were done in ’21 that Public School Accountability has been going with them in ’22, FY ’22, that were changing them and they’re now working with them again in this current– in this upcoming– in this fiscal year right we’re in right now to see if those plans are still holding or if they do need to change how they’re using their ESSER funds.
Ingram I mean, I’ve got a situation where I’ve got two of my six school districts that had approved projects. And as we know, I think in the legislature, the local school districts expend the money and then they’re reimbursed. And, and I’ve got two school districts that had projects that were approved, and they’re on the hook for the project– for, for the money. And one it came down, they– their, their funds had been frozen to pay for a much needed HVAC system and they didn’t have the money to pay the subcontractor because of the held money. But those are all local decisions, not, not, not SEA or legislative decisions, regarding the opportunity to pivot. Thank you.
Dismang Senator Hammer, you’re recognized for a question.
Hammer Thank you, Mr. Chair. So, over here to your far left. Do you know of any districts that had signed contracts before the $500 million appropriation was authorized in June?
Rogers Yes, they would have had HVAC situations where they had started in the previous fiscal year, working on getting those contracts together and starting the project. Some of them could have started in FY ’22. I don’t, I don’t have a list of those, but I’m assuming that there were some that were started.
Hammer Okay. And then how would they have done that without the approval of the $500 million appropriation in June and not know that they were exposed to a liability in the event we did something different?
Rogers So we had, like I said, in FY ’22, we had $500 million for this same program last fiscal year. So they would have been using that $500 million to start their program then. And then when we came in in June and got the other 500, then everything was going– as it should– they could still keep going on with those contracts.
Dismang And let me try to clarify that one more time. They were obligated to develop a state– or a plan for the, you know, we had a state plan and each district had their own district plan. And they outlined what they wanted the priorities to be, hopefully, most with significant stakeholder involvement. Okay. And so, and then it may be really the issue was how we did the initial appropriation. So you can think of it this way. There’s a state plan out there, or there’s a state plan and all these district plans, and the, the department said, you know what, we think we need an appropriation for a half a billion dollars to allow these districts to spend, and we’re just going to release as we go along. What you have in front of you today is, you know, broken down by district that goes into a total. So we know the actual district allocation. Those prior appropriations weren’t tied to any specific district, correct?
Rogers So, you know, we had the three rounds. So the ESSER 1 and ESSER 2 weren’t. It’s when the ARP ESSER funds were made that we came over, and if you’ll remember, we actually came over and asked for the full allocation of the $1 billion . And then at the time it was a little hesitation about giving the $1 billion appropriation. So we agreed that the $500 million could get projects started, could allow us to reimburse districts that were going on. And if the event that we got close to using that $500 million, we would come back to Peer again and say, we’re at that, that ceiling, we need to get the additional funds to keep going.
Dismang We should have been more specific in the beginning and some of that confusion would not be here today, I think. And that’s not anybody’s fault, necessarily, but I think that that way you would have– I think your question would be more answered, where there was a tranche of money that was allocated blanket to school districts. They, you know– we, we utilized that appropriation as requests came in but not specific to each school. There wasn’t an amount set specific to each school. It was a half a billion dollars in estimated need, blanket for the school districts. So some used all of their ESSER money under that initial appropriation or close to it. Some did not. Is that–
Pfeffer Senator Dismang, the, the allocations were originally done in the spring of 2021. And so districts– the amount of money that districts were allocated, that was, that was out there early on. The appropriation amounts were done incrementally. So districts were operating under the total amount of money that they’re going to have to spend through, I believe, it’s September of 2024. But the appropriation amounts were what we came to you all and asked for incrementally.
Dismang Thank you.
Hammer Can I– one quick one? But the reimbursements that the districts had did not have anything to do with the legislature appropriation and appropriating the funds. Is that correct or incorrect?
Rogers It depends on which pot of money we’re talking about. If you’re talking about the ARP ESSER refunds, then, yes, any reimbursements out of that pot of money, this appropriation, we would not be able to reimburse those school districts right now for.
Hammer To the, to the DESE fund. So the question is reimbursements did not have anything to do with the legislature appropriating funds to DESE.
Rogers Yes. We still can’t do any reimbursements out of that– out of our set aside funds for ARP ESSER funds, as well.
Hammer Okay. Thank you.
Dismang Representative Vaught, you’re recognized for a question.
Vaught Thank you, Mr. Chair. First, I’d like to commend schools that actually did what we asked them to do. But there are schools on here who didn’t do what we asked them to do.
Dismang Okay. Yeah. One thing, if you look at this report, it’s going to say no. There’s three of them, actually, that are a little bit confusing. Is it Cossatot, Cedar Ridge– Cedarville? I can’t remember now. But there’s three of them that, no, that their plans did not initially conform, and then they post in the column that says, ‘but we are going to’ adust their state plan, which is where they change their state plan. So they are actually adhering. The department’s going to ask them to provide just a little bit more clarity so it’s easier to understand and read about how they’re going to meet that. But there are three schools that say no that then follow up– is it– yeah, Cedar Ridge, Cossatot and Kipp are the three that say, no, but then only provide the change to the state plan without an explanation. But it’s in the column where they say they’re, they’re,– you know, they like the recommendation and they’re conforming to the recommendation.
Vaught And then can I have– can I say something to you that I don’t know how to get fixed? But I have a school that actually gave bonuses, went against what they were being told and gave bonuses and got wrote up for giving bonuses back in the spring. And I think that that should be cleared off of their record and they should not be written up for something that was actually part of the directive in which they were supposed to be doing, in which they were being told by the department that they could not do and got wrote up by the department. And I would like for us to find a way to fix that.
Dismang That’s part of the reason we’re here today, in my opinion, is we wanted to make sure everyone fully understood how these funds could be utilized. I still see posts today made by teachers that are meeting with their superintendents, and their superintendents are telling them that these cannot be used for bonuses. Still happening today. I think the DOE was very clear. And so what I would recommend to that school is there is a place here to make comments. Those comments– and you see it, actually– I’d have to find it again and who it is in particular that said that they were advised that they could not utilize the funds for, for bonuses previously. And now some of them are doing it, but they were told previously they couldn’t. I think that’s good information to have on the report.
Vaught Thank you, sir.
Dismang And that’s where they should list it. Senator Irvin, you’re recognized for a question.
Irvin Thank you, Mr. Chair. Couple of questions. I had a superintendent ask a question about if this is federal money, how can the state retract this? Clearly, I hope everyone understands we have to have an appropriation authority for whether it’s federal money or state money. You may need to clarify that with your superintendents. Any spending authority, whether it’s federal money or state money, requires appropriation authority by the legislature. So that’s something that you need to make sure your superintendents understand, number one. Number two, a question was, what do we do with the people we have hired with ESSER funds? Was there direction from the Department of Education that they could hire people with ESSER funds? These are one time monies. Why would you hire somebody? Because then it said, What are we supposed to do, send these people home? Now, you realize these are one time funds, so what is your answer to this? Because this is what we’re dealing with. We’re having to answer these questions that should be common sense or how was that not communicated from the Department of Ed that these are one time monies and you should not hire and create a financial obligation that’s going to have to be sustained using one time moneys.
Pfeffer We would agree. And we did have conversations with districts about making those hiring decisions. So what, what districts were encouraged to do that if they did hire additional staff to address learning loss or to provide tutoring, to provide interventions, that it was very clear that this was short term. And some of the districts did make some decisions as part of a longer term recruitment plan to hire teachers who would then be filling vacancies that would be coming with retirements later on. So, but you are correct. Districts have to be very careful with using these monies for an ongoing commitment.
Irvin Well, there’s got to be clear communication between the Department of Ed and the superintendents, because what I don’t want is them to come back now to us and say, well, we’ve hired these people now, guess what, state legislature, you need to continue to maintain it with state general revenue. That’s, that’s not the intention here of what the ESSER funds were supposed to be for. And I do not want to see us fall into that trap, because that was, that was a poor spending decision and a poor choice and for those superintendents to make. If, if they can’t meet that ongoing financial obligation, that’s on them. That was their decision. So my last question is on page 5 under Foreman superintendent. Under their additional justification, it says it was only until April of 2022 that DESE provided some districts with the information that it says bounces– I’m assu-ming that’s going to say– mean bonuses could be given through a teacher retention and recruitment plan using ARP funds.
Pfeffer So I think what that refers to, so the initial guidance– guidance evolved. I will– for each pot of money, guidance evolved as the different amounts of money came out. Part of– and something that I think helps provide context, when, when the federal guidance was coming out about how funds could be spent, most states were not back in school, even in the– at that time. And so states like Arkansas started realizing early on the challenges with recruitment and retention, because we had people at school and districts were starting to have issues.
Irvin So but the federal, the memo, was dated December 16 of 2021 from the federal Department of Ed. And in that memo, it outlines example after example after example of schools that did use this money for recruitment bonuses, for custodians, for bus drivers, for people that work in the cafeteria, for teachers. You name it, it provided example after example. One was a school in Texas. I can pull it up and read it to you. So my question, why then, if that came out on December the 16 of 2021, did this Mr. Tankersley not get notified from DESE until April of 2022 that the money could be used for that?
Pfeffer This would have been April of 2021 because as early as April and May of 2021, we had districts that were providing additional pay, whether they called it additional pay, whether they called it bonuses, that were targeted for recruitment and retention efforts. We were allowing districts to do that back in April and May of 2021. Secretary Cardona’s letter came out in December of 2021, because in April of 2021, there were a lot of states not even in school. So our districts were doing that six months before Secretary Cardona’s letter.
Irvin Okay, so I’m going off of what he said, which was April of 2022.
Pfeffer Well, we can go back and we have a huge folder of applications from districts. In the spring of 2021, we had multiple districts that were providing additional pay for teachers at the end of the 2021 school year and then throughout the next school year, through the spring of 2022, continued.
Irvin Okay. I mean, because if you read down here, in contrast to Fayetteville School District, they did use a lot of money for bonuses.
Irvin So I am confused at whether– are these schools not plugged in? Are they– that, that is a huge problem for me, that maybe a larger school district had better communication with y’all versus a smaller school district. I don’t know the answer to that. All I know is what I’m reading here, which doesn’t match up. So thank you for the questions.
Dismang Senator Chesterfield, you’re recognized for a question?
Chesterfield Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair. And thank you for being here. Having worked with school districts, the four school districts in Pulaski County, I am aware that they did provide something that was not called a bonus, but was a bonus. And I’m trying to figure out, why did they have to be so careful in how they said it? You see, the last one that they got was the Covid incentive. If you are able to stay in school, you know, 10– if you don’t use 10 Covid days, then we’re going to reward you with, you know, some, some more bonus money. So what, what was the confusion? Why did it have to be stated so specifically?
Pfeffer Because initially there was a directive– or the guidance– excuse me. Originally the guidance said that the intent of the funds were not to be used for blanket bonuses. However, it didn’t mean that all types of additional compensation were disallowed. And so we– and it also said that any type of bonus, additional pay for teachers, you needed to have a plan. So districts needed to have an additional plan for if we’re giving any kind of compensation using these funds, how are we doing it? What are the amounts? What’s the purpose? And so, again, it ties directly into the recruitment and retention efforts. And we, actually, during the 2021 school year, districts had less turnover. I think everyone kind of hunkered down during COVID. But then that next school year, this past school year, is when we’ve seen a lot of resignations and retirements. So that has– the whole recruitment and retention need has become more and more evident over this last school year. So that’s why I think you’ve seen districts continue on, whether it’s called bonus, additional pay, compensation.
Chesterfield Were there any districts that did not provide that additional pay?
Pfeffer There’s only one district that did not have, that did not use any of their funding for some type of additional pay. A small district that got very little in– it got a very small amount of funds. And they used it for– I believe they used it for HVAC projects.
Chesterfield I see. Well, Mr. Chair, help, help me understand where we’re going here. We have clearly stated no’s on this page. What do we do going forward? Because some of these people have obligated funds. Some of it makes sense to me. I’m not sure about others. But going forward, Mr. Chair, what do we anticipate doing in response to those who have said no? What is the plan?
Dismang And just for some clarification, some of those that said no actually came back and posted in the column that they were doing it. The no, the initial no, is, does your plan as it’s written right now, you know, apply.
Chesterfield Yeah, I get it, but–
Dismang Okay. So I just want to make sure that the other members–
Chesterfield I got that.
Dismang –are reading it that way.
Chesterfield But if there’s a definitive no?
Dismang And as far as our duties here today, I mean, there is not a school on this list that has not properly responded. Each one has given their information out. And one of the things– at least it was important to me, it may not be important to others, was the requirement of public engagement. That was not something that, you know, just the Department of Education here said they wanted. It was on the federal level also. And I think we have brought that conversation to the forefront. I’m reading posts where we have. The disappointing thing is to see when superintendents or school districts mislead their teachers about the possibilities with these funds. That’s not to say that some have not already been allocated, not already been spent and under contract. And you see that listed over here. I accept that and I understand where they are with their expenditures and their allocations of the ESSER funds. So, I mean, at the end of the day, we’re going to have some questions, maybe someone or members want to ask them on specific entities. But it will be my intent that we approve, you know, the full amount that’s been requested because they have followed the process that was set forward. Again, we don’t have the ability to approve specifically how they spend the funds. We are just the ones that approve the appropriation as we always are.
Chesterfield So ultimately, after all the questions are answered to the satisfaction of the body, we will be then moving toward releasing the money. Is that what you’re saying?
Dismang The money for the schools that have responded. Yes.
Chesterfield That have responded. And if schools have not responded, then?
Dismang Then we’ll have another meeting. We’re talking about having one next week, but if we do not do that, it would be the following for ALC. My intent, as we stated in the beginning, was to move all this as quickly as possible, but also ensure that there was time for some public input that may have not existed prior to us having the discussion in the committee.
Chesterfield So in essence, what we’re engaged in is public input.
Dismang That’s how I see it. Yes, ma’am.
Chesterfield We’re putting in our 2 cents like everybody else.
Dismang Yeah, well. We want–
Chesterfield Our $500 million input.
Dismang I would say we’re bringing awareness to how the funds are being spent.
Chesterfield I got you.
Dismang And some districts did a great job of, I mean, you can read down through here– I’m going to say it’s Wynne– did a great job with making sure that they talked to all of those that were– I can’t remember the terminology for it now, but, you know, those that were in, you know, part of the district and that sort of thing. And they did a good job with their outreach programs.
Chesterfield Well, I think I have a better idea of where we’re going. Thank you so very much.
Dismang Perfect. Thank you. Seat 52, Senator Elliott.
Elliott Mr. Chair, I think my question was answered just in your comments just now. So I don’t think I have a further question.
Dismang Representative Evans.
Evans Thank you, Mr. Chair. And Mr. Chair, as you and I discussed, when this process started, we knew that there was going to be 260-plus different scenarios that, that that this committee would be looking at, the predicaments that they found themselves in. And as a member of the adequacy study, I know Chairman Cozart and I have had multiple conversations about the disparity that our districts are finding themselves in due to the fact that they had been in a pre-approved building expansion project and then inflation has increased their cost far above what they had been approved for through the, through the cost share program from the state. And I want to reference first, with some leniency, a press release from a district that is on this list. It’s actually on page 8 at the top, Southside School District. Back in November of 2021, they passed a 4.8 mil increase in their community to do a $39 million building project. It was going to start on their elementary buildings, move to their middle school, their junior high and then their high schools. So they’re going to do this $40 million building expansion project. And I applaud them and their community for further investing in their school system. The department, through their facilities team, had committed $23 million to those improvements. So they had cost share there and partnership funding from the state. And I guess what I was just looking for some clarity on is when I look at their report that they put into this review, they found themselves in a very unique situation. They referenced they had passed the millage. However, they found themselves that inflation cost had pushed their building projects to approximately 60 million, 20 million above their original $39 million plan. And this is where I’d like some clarity, especially if there’s someone from the facilities division here. They stated– Superintendent Stewart stated– or excuse me, Stevens stated, “the facilities division advised us to save as much as possible of our ARP funds to offset inflation cost, and that is what the school board and stakeholders agreed to do. We have the largest school– because we have the largest school choice population in the state of Arkansas, we did not receive a lot of the ARP funds.” So they received a block of ARP funds that was pro-rated down to them based upon Title 1. However, they were in this big building project and they, they realized the inflation is driving that cost up, they go to facilities and say, what do we do? And according to his testimony here, facilities said, Don’t spend your ARP money, sit on it, and you can use it on this building project. And I’m just looking for some clarification as, was that part of the guidelines of what a school district could use our ARP money for was expansions of their existing facilities.
Pfeffer So, Representative, I don’t know that I can– I would need to check and see what information was provided to that district specifically.
Evans So is there no one from facilities here today since a lot of this has to do with facilities?
Pfeffer No, we don’t have anyone here from facilities. Now, as far as ARP funds and the ability to use it for facilities, there are some, some areas, obviously, where– and in, in terms of the building expansion, if the connection could be made to COVID, helping to prevent COVID, then we did have cases where some building projects were going to use ESSER funds for at least part of that. But we would, we would need to sit down with the specific plan from the district to be able to answer that.
Evans I think that would be advisable, because I know that in conversations, again, with Representative Cozart, this is a this is a real hot button item to him, especially being a building contractor and understanding what we’re faced with with districts that are in building projects and what inflation costs have done to them and their budgets. But it seems to me that with a very, very detailed list, including the fact that funds were, were to be used to compensate and recruit and retention, but yet we’re telling a district, don’t use your funds, sit on them, and basically, let’s kind of get through this, and then you probably going to be able to use these ARP funds to finish out your building project, to me, that seems a little misleading. So I would appreciate some clarity and that you’ve offered from facilities and see specifically if that is what they were told. I, personally, I know the superintendent there at Southside and and I believe that what he is stated to be correct. Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the leniency.
Dismang Thank you. Seat 60, Senator Hammer.
Hammer Thank you, Mr. Chair. I’m drawn to comments from page 2, the superintendent from Poyen, who is probably the most direct in his comments of all the ones that are made. He says, :We have 88,000 left. We were shafted on the disbursement of all three pots of money and received just over 700,000 total from all funds, including ESSER 2 supplemental money that was received from the Fed, from the Feds. ESSER 1 and 2. When I asked the department about potential ARP ESSER supplement right after we were notified of our pittance, I was told that we were working on something.” I’d like to hear your input on two things. One, the disparity of the funds that were allocated because of being constricted by the Title 1 formula and the disparity between the schools. And then number two, it implies that you all were working on something. What is it that you were working on? And he says that never came to light.
Rogers Okay. So on the first part of your question, the disparity between how the funds were allocated based off Title 1?
Hammer Well, some schools got more money than others based on their– what I understand. May be wrong, free and reduced lunch or the formula that was passed down, some schools got more that they could do more with. Other schools didn’t get as much that they didn’t have as much to do with, including the discussion about bonuses. And so, you know, his opinion, I think, shared by others is that they were disadvantaged from the beginning. So do you have an opinion about that or response to that?
Rogers So the allocations that were given in all three rounds of the ESSER funds was based off their Title 1 allocations, which is on poverty , poverty in the community, not free or reduced lunch that we collect or anything, but how the feds allocate it based off census data. All three rounds were done on that. With the ESSER 2 funds, we were able to take some funds and ensure that every district got at least $600 per ADM because there was such a disparity between– because it’s based off Title 1. I don’t know of a plan that we were ever talking about with ARP ESSER funds.
Hammer Okay. So, so the comment, ‘I was told that we were working on something that never came to light,’ that doesn’t originate with you or y’all didn’t give any indication, any departments that something was being worked on?
Rogers I don’t know that there was a plan that was being worked on to do anything with ARP ESSER funds.
Hammer Okay. And last thing, on that ESSER 2, that included a supplement to some of the schools in order to bring about equality as far as at that point in time, the money that would be used to be able to do whatever projects were approved. Is that correct?
Rogers Yes. Yes. We were trying to get it up to the $600. So whatever in their plan that they were approved for the ESSER 1 or ESSER 2 funds, they could do their plan to have those additional dollars.
Pfeffer That school district did get an additional $182,000 from this second round of funding, and they have about $6,000 of that remaining.
Hammer And you got 650 something sitting in your, in your fund over there. As far as any contribution to a supplemental column moving forward, you had any discussions about that or any thoughts on that? Thank you. Mr. Chair. That’s a question, if they don’t mind answering, then I’m done.
Rogers 600, I don’t know where you were– I’m sorry.
Hammer Well, I’ve got a copy of your surplus funds that are sitting over the department. It’s around 650 that I’m, I’m under the impression it’s on allocated or not obligated. Is that right or is that– am I operating on misinformation?
Rogers So you’re talking about general revenue, our fund balance and our general revenue?
Hammer Well, your fund balance that is sitting over there.
Rogers I think you’re talking about either the Adequacy Fund or the public school fund, which would be general revenue. So that would be trying to use the general revenue to–
Hammer The total unrestricted fund balance that I’m looking at on this sheet paper says $648,918,000. What is, what is that number comprised of or how has that balance arrived at?
Rogers That would be the, probably, the public school fund and the adequacy funds, which are general revenue accounts.
Hammer All right. But are they unrestricted?
Rogers Yes. I mean, it depends on the appropriation level on it. I don’t know what you’re looking at. But yes, we do have, we do usually have a fund balance in both those.
Hammer All right. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Dismang Thank you. Recognize co-chair for a question.
Gray Yes, thank you. You know, I think part of my issue, as you’ve heard today, has been, you know, several school districts in here have said they were told they couldn’t use the funds for bonuses until recently. And I want to go back to something that Representative Vaught said, talking about one of her schools that got written up. Can you explain what that would have been? And that just happened this spring is what I’m told. It was DeQueen school district.
Pfeffer We’re going to have to follow up on that. I don’t know of any district that has been written up. And I think when we have been asked questions, we have– our team tries to provide information around, you know, if you’re going to do something, what are the, all the steps that have to be taken. Our team has reviewed several different plans that districts have, have drafted around giving additional pay or bonuses. So that, that’s surprising for me to hear. And I definitely will want to follow up.
Gray Thank you. I appreciate, if you would, when you follow up on that, if they were written up, I mean, please follow up with the chairs and let us know what, what they were written up for. Give us a copy of it. Just keep us in the loop on that. And if, if that truly is the case, we need to rectify that for that school district. All right.
Pfeffer I’ve got it noted. I will, I will follow up and then we will report back.
Gray Thank you. And it was also brought to my attention after our last Peer meeting– and I can, you know, I’ll be glad to give you the employee’s name offline– that had another meeting with supers after the last Peer meeting that told them that they still were not allowed to use these for bonuses. So I would like to provide that to you offline, and I’d like to make sure that that does stop so that communication is clear to these school districts. Thank you. And, Mr. Chair, I have a motion. I move to suspend subcommittee rule two regarding placement of items on the agenda for ARP requests for the Department of Education relating to ESSER funding for this meeting and all subsequent meetings until the beginning of the 94th General Assembly.
Dismang Members, you’ve heard the motion. This motion is going to allow us to move– beginning of the 94th.
Gray Beginning of the 94th.
Dismang Yeah. So this is going to allow us to do these approvals as we move through each meeting, or we would have to suspend the rules at each meeting. So this is going to let us move through more quickly as we move forward. I’ve got a motion. We’ve got a second. Do we have any questions on the motion? Representative Dotson, you’re recognized for a question on a motion.
Dotson Thank you, Mr. Chair. Is this just related to the ARP or ESSER Fund approvals, not regular suspension of rules?
Dismang Yeah, this is just for these funds that we’re talking about here. And again, this is– we’re not voting on the list quite yet. I think she’ll make a motion in just a second to do that. But this is to suspend the rules so we can take up that motion to approve the list that’s in front of us today and then allow us to do it every meeting hereafter.
Dotson And just a process question for the chair. On this list that we’re we’re looking at, are we going to be taking a motion on each individual item or the whole group?
Dismang The whole group. But it will be an understanding, which is different than what we had before, that this is the amount of appropriation allocated to each school for their particular spend.
Dotson Okay. Thank you.
Dismang Before that, allocation didn’t exist, which is what some of the confusion, I think, is for me and others in the room and probably even for school districts, for that matter. Senator Chesterfield, are you on the motion?
Chesterfield Yes, sir. As a matter of process, should it not pass, what happens then? Silly me for asking that question.
Dismang Then we wouldn’t be able to take up the motion to approve the funds today.
Chesterfield Okay. Gotcha. All righty.
Dismang All right. Senator Ingram, are you on the motion?
Ingram No, I’ve got a separate question.
Dismang Representative Dotson, you’re back on– you’re good? And seat 45, which I don’t know. Okay. You’re– on this, on the motion?
Godfrey Just quickly, Mr. Chair. If, if these are approved but then the district, after the time that the appropriation is approved, make the change, again, because they do have local flexibility, is there any kind of problem with that? Do they need to come back with a new explanation or a new– I mean, I just–
Dismang I would anticipate–
Godfrey Once we say yes, do they– what happens?
Dismang I hope and one of the things, one of the, one of the points of this exercise is to bring awareness to the fact that a district’s plan can change. I went back and looked at some district plans that have really never changed since the beginning. The feds continued to issue guidance and new recommendations and obviously an environment change. Part of what we’re doing– so I would anticipate there to be change. And I would also anticipate that there is significant public involvement by stakeholders when that change is made, as is also required. Any change has to be posted on the district’s website, and that posting has to occur every so many days– I can’t remember what it is. But yes, so they would not be bringing it back before us. They have the authority to do that if they want. Now, if they want to come in and tell us that they’re going to do $5,000 bonuses, and then go home and yank all that back, I anticipate you’d have some folks that would not be too pleased. But that would require some public input for that to happen.
Godfrey But if there are circumstances, circumstances that change or costs that change or needs that arise between the time we approve and they are able to spend the funds, that’s okay for them to be able to make those changes without coming back for–
Dismang No, they would be advising the department, I suppose, you know, to make those changes. But no, they would not be coming back before us after today.
Godfrey Thank you.
Dismang All right. And then and again, that was on the motion that hasn’t occurred yet. We’re talking about the motion to allow us to take up that motion today. And so what I want to do is, right now, if you– everybody turn off your mic. If you’re on, you’re hot right now. Let’s just turn you off. Do you have a question on the motion to suspend the rule so that we can take up the next motion, which would be on the, on the school districts and their allocation of appropriation? All right, seeing none, I’ve got a motion and I’ve got a second. All those in favor, signify by saying aye. All those opposed. Motion carries. And I’m going to recognize you again. Yeah. And so Senator Ingram, you’re recognized for a question.
Ingram Thank you. Just a quick follow up on Senator Chesterfield’s question. She talked about school districts that come before us that we approve their use of ESSER funds. What about the reverse? [00:47:32]What about school districts that come in front of us that don’t meet the guidelines that we’ve set out? Are they going to be denied funds? Are they going to get their funds or– that, that would be my question. [15.6s]
Dismang [00:47:48]We are set, if we have the motion, to approve 24 school districts that will not be able to meet the $5,000 recommendation. Again, we’re not asking or mandating that they do it. The requirement is that they come before us, state what their intent is, what they’re doing, and if they can’t do it, why? [21.0s] And so as long as they meet those, then we’re fine. There was one school district that did not respond that way, and it was pulled by the department today. And that’s simply because they said no with no other explanation whatsoever. I think it’s– at least it’s my opinion that it’s important that these stakeholders understand why, which I think are the vast majority of legitimate reasons. But we will not be– I mean to your question, we’re going to approve 24 of those today.
Ingram [00:48:39]But, but, but I think I was asking a more macro question. So what– with that answer, then, other than coming back in front of us then every school district that, that submits, they are going to be approved no matter what?[18.4s]
Dismang [00:49:00]Yes. So long as they state, you know, what their intention is, what they’re, you know, what they’re going to do and why they’re going to do it. That is the requirement. [8.0s]
Dismang Nothing beyond that.
Ingram Thank you.
Dismang Senator Irvin, you’re recognized for a question.
Irvin So just along those lines, you had Cedar Ridge that said no with no explanation and Kipp Delta public schools that said no with no explanation and Cossatot that has no explanation– so.
Dismang We’re going to clean that up. And the way that actually reads is they said, no, that their current plan does not meet the recommendation. And then they answered with their state plan in the column that says, how they are going to meet the recommendations. So in essence, they’re saying, yes, we, we agree with the recommendation of ALC and this is what we’re doing to our state plan. The department is going to clean that up a little bit in the response so that they are a little bit more specific about how and when I say a little bit, I mean a little bit. Just so it’s a little more clear to us. But those three schools are actually schools that are going to meet the, you know, recommendation.
Irvin Okay. And just if I can, I just want to thank the, the superintendents for their comments. And I appreciate what they’ve done here. And I appreciate some that have said that they developed their plan through meaningful consultation with stakeholders. Because I think that’s the point of what we’re doing here today is making sure that if you did need to feel like you needed to hire somebody that you have a plan and you’ve effectively communicated that with your stakeholders and your school board that you can meet that financial obligation on your own. Then great. But it all just needs to be understood. And if you do have problems where you’re trying to recruit teachers, then we’ve got to make sure that’s addressed, first and foremost, with these funds, I would think. So, I just think more communication and clear communication is, is probably necessary.
Dismang Thank you. And we haven’t gotten a motion yet. Do we want to go ahead and take that motion? Because I feel like we’re starting to debate a motion that we don’t have now. Are you– is your mic on? Okay, all right. Then I’m going to go in order because I’ve got seat 60, seat 52 and 19. So up next will be seat 19. I’ve no idea where that is. You’re recognized.
Garner Thank you, Mr. Chair. You probably know what I’m going to ask, but we have so many schools that did not get equal amounts of money because of Title 1. So, so one of my school districts has 674 per student. Another has 14,090 per student because of Title 1. They’re doing the same things. They can’t, I mean, it doesn’t make any difference. I’m all for Title 1, but this, in this case, it doesn’t really make any difference for teacher bonuses and for– so we’re kind of throwing them under the bus, I feel like. You know, I mean, so they obviously would love to give their, their staff bonuses, but they don’t have the money to do that because of– and I realize that’s federal. But is there any way that we can get money for– from the surplus or from somewhere to make sure that we’re getting these schools that don’t have the money to do that without throwing them under the bus with their stakeholders?
Dismang That’s a policy decision that I don’t think either one of these two should be in the position of answering, personally. I mean, that would be a decision that would be up to this body. Surplus, we’re, we’re out of session now. We’re not dragging out the surplus at this point. And there’s a lot of other considerations. And one thing that I would hope school districts would answer. I mean, some are already at the minimums that we were looking to set. Some are already paying teachers at the level and, typically, that’s going to be some of your more affluent schools. And that’s something that should be, you know, mentioned if they feel like they need to, you know, in the columns that have been provided. But that’s what– I mean, that, that’s why we allowed them to respond, because we do understand that different districts receive different levels of moneys per student based on, you know, really the, you know, the wealth of that particular area. All right, seat 50. All right. With where we are, this is going to be– we’re going to take a motion in a minute. Seat 52. Because we’re, we’re off– we’re debating a motion that hasn’t occurred in a lot of ways.
Elliott Thank you, Mr. Chair. My question is for the Department of Ed, and it’s really a follow on to Representative Garner’s question. Do you know how many school districts are in the position that she described, that they don’t have enough money to meet the recommendation?
Pfeffer We don’t have a total number at this time because not all districts have responded to the, the questions. And we, I mean, we, we can look at the amounts that each district received and kind of give a, an indication of per pupil, you know, what, how many districts and how large is the disparity in a per pupil amount. So, so those are things that we can see. But then because the decisions are made locally based on those needs in each of those districts, it is just a very difficult analysis to do. Because in some cases where they did receive less money, they are more affluent districts and some of them have higher salaries already. Some though are smaller, more rural and have, have lower. So we’re just going to continue to try to look at this, look at the, the local circumstances and, and get feedback from school districts as to what their, their situations are.
Elliott Okay. Thank you. Thanks, Mr. Chair.
Dismang Thank you. You’re recognized for a motion?
Gray Thank you, Mr. Chair. I move that we approve all requests under item B on the agenda.
Dismang I think we have a motion. We’ve got a second. I’ve got a couple of people that have their mics on. If you are not having comments in relation to the motion, just please go ahead and turn your mic off. And if you are– if you do have questions in relation to the motion, leave your mic on. Representative Dotson, you’re recognized for– no, you’re off. Thank you. We’ve got a motion. We’ve got a second. And there is no further discussion, no questions. All those in favor signify by saying aye. All those opposed. Motion carries. Representative Dotson, you are now recognized.
Dotson Thank you, Mr. Chair. This is a question for the department. There was a reference to a $648 million fund balance that you have. I’m not sure exactly what that is in relation to but, Greg, I was wondering if you might be able to say what, what is that and what can those funds be used for or what do you use them for? Are they reserved and set aside, in a fund balance for a specific allocated purpose or are they just money sitting there for whenever you have needs arise?
Dismang I’m going to– I’m going to guess a little bit, but I’m not sure for which one. Because I know that in Adequacy Fund, which is a special revenue fund that goes into the public school fund, we carry a balance in that. It’s funded by the 3/4 cent sales tax. So it’s done good this year. So we, we do have a fund balance in that adequacy fund. We usually certify about $590 to $600 million out of it each year. So we need to have a little fund balance in that each year to be able to certify that same amount that goes into the public school fund each year. And then in the public school fund, we have a balance in it too, which I think is what’s making up the total $600,000. Some of it’s from adequacy. Some of it is the public school fund. And in the public school fund, we have a fund balance in it just because the number of ADM that was paid out this year, the assessment growth that was paid where the local wealth was higher, so we didn’t have to make too much general revenue. So I think those two pots of money of general revenue is what’s making up the $600 million that we’re referring to. I’m pretty sure.
Dotson So, so that 3/4 cent that you were talking about. that money goes in there. Is that unrestricted or or does that actually go into the public school fund that pays the, the foundation funding?
Dismang That is one of the, one of the revenue streams that pays the foundation funding. That’s the adequacy fund. That’s the educational adequacy fund. It’s a special revenue fund that is part of the total amount of funding that makes up the public school fund balance of general revenue needed to pay foundation funding, the categoricals and other needs in the public school fund.
Dotson So we’ve done well this year. How much do you anticipate the fund balance being going forward after you’ve paid all the foundation funding and meeting all those obligations already?
Dismang That would have been the fund balance that we ended this past fiscal year with. So I don’t want to guess until the adequacy committee is finished doing their work because I don’t know how much of that general revenue will be used for adequacy to pay for adequacy going on. I’d be guessing at this point.
Dotson You don’t know how much was at the end of the fiscal year though?
Dismang I want to say it was total around 3 or 4, but now I’m just straight up guessing.
Dotson Okay. Thank you.
Dismang All right. Senator Chesterfield, you’re recognized for a question.
Dotson Yes. Thank you, Mr. Chair. How much is in the Education Trust Fund?
Dismang The Educational Excellence Trust Fund?
Chesterfield Mm hmm.
Dismang That is a number that is set by the DFA that’s based off last year’s revenues that they allocate based off what they received last year that gives to us. I don’t know. That’d be DFA.
Chesterfield Greg, you know me better. Just tell me you don’t know instead of going by the barn. Mr. Chair, I guess what concerns me is that the people of this state who are in our public schools have been told that we have a– that they should receive– and I believe they should and even more– $5,000 and $2,500 for classified. Do we have a fund at the Department of Education that will allow those school districts that don’t have the resources to do that to make that happen?
Dismang I have no idea if there’s a fund that exists for that, but I think it’s also a little bit more complicated than that. I mean, what we’re talking about is a matter of priorities. And if a district did not prioritize teacher pay with their ESSER funds, the question then is should the state make that up? In some cases, maybe so. But in others, depending on what they did spend their money on, maybe there was a misplaced importance on what they prioritize. But that would be a much bigger question. I am not sure of any particular fund. Those may exist. I just don’t know.
Chesterfield But as we look at it, would that not be something for us to look at? Find out first of all, as we go through this process, we’re finding out what people are allocating the funds for. Some are able to do the 5, some maybe even less. But I would hate, because I’m small and I didn’t get much in the beginning, that all of the sudden, my teachers, who are the most difficult to keep because we’re in a small area, we get nothing. That’s my major concern.
Dismang Absolutely. And just to kind of tag along with that, one thing that we do not know is the number of vacancies at each district anywhere in the state. There is no comprehensive report that shows where the vacancies are. If we did have that report, we could pinpoint some of the issues. That may be lack of management by the administration. It may be lack of funding, which would be something we need to be concerned with. It may be– what’s– yes. Yeah, lots and lots of reasons of why there may be vacancies in a district, but since we do not know where those are, we’re not able to really pinpoint and see what’s happening in that particular school district. Hopefully we’ll be able to get that information and I think that will lead to some good discussion for us really on some of the points that you’ve raised. Senator birthday boy, Senator Hammer.
Hammer Thanks, thanks for the present. We’ll see how lenient you are with my present here in a minute. Clarification to the chair. Approval of the items by the committee a while ago equates to the department being able to issue the funds to the districts. Is that correct?
Dismang That’s correct.
Hammer And then the second thing is– and maybe this ties into Representative Gray’s motion a while ago– what is the deadline that is set for the districts to get this report in? And what happens if we come up against the 94th General Assembly and they have not submitted anything? They’re just out of luck or what?
Dismang I would be surprised if we find ourselves in that situation. And there is no– I mean, as far as I’m concerned, there is no deadline except for those imposed by, you know, on the federal level. But we as a body have said that we will do everything we can to be accommodating, to push these appropriations through, so long as they meet the requirements that we set forth, which is nothing more than: Do you plan on doing it? If not, why? And so that, that’s the only requirement in place. Hopefully we’ll move quickly. But as an overall deadline, I know of none.
Hammer All right.
Gray If I could answer that too. I think my motion, all it does is suspend the placement of the items on the agenda. So I won’t be here in the 94th General Assembly. If you wanted to, you could, you know, make another motion to do that same thing as well.
Hammer Okay. Can I add one more present to the, to the department real quick? Thank you. So the report I mentioned a while ago that has the $648 million, which has the total unrestricted fund balance, when it comes to the adequacy and the recommendation of the committee that will make that, are those are those dollars that are attached with that recommendation paid for out of this fund?
Hammer Then, since 2013 until now, it’s gone from 76 million to what is a balance now of 648. And just the difference between last year and this year was a accumulation of $167 million. What I need understanding is that if we are paying for the cost of adequacy out of this fund and we’re meeting that obligation, how is it that that fund continues to grow as much as it does if it is used to make the payment for the recommendation of adequacy out of the committee but it continues to grow at the rate it does. Or am I misreading that?
Rogers That is one of the three main funding lines that go into the public school fund to pay for the adequacy recommendation. Educational Excellence Trust Fund, adequacy and general revenue make up the three that do that. When we go to making the recommendations for general revenue and everything else and the needs of the public school fund, the adequacy fund is one of those funds that is considered. Last year the fund grew higher, and we get the growth from DFA. So that would be really more of a question of them why it grew so good in the previous fiscal year. But that’s what we use as one of the three funding sources for the public school fund.
Hammer So understanding we’re in a boom with the federal money that’s coming in, that, that pot is just going to continue to grow. And if we come back and say all teachers ought to get a $4,000 raise through adequacy, this would be the first source of money that would be tapped to do that in addition to whatever else we grow through the general budgeting process. Is that correct?
Rogers Yes, it’s one of the ones, along with general revenue, is used for adequacy recommendations.
Hammer All right. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Rogers And as I said before, we use $600 million a year out of, out of that fund already– 590 to 600 for adequacy. Sorry.
Dismang All right, members. Okay. We’ve concluded our special session. We’ve concluded our business, technical business, for this committee. I will have– I have no problem with having some additional questions of the department. That really wasn’t the– you know, this isn’t our forum. If the Education Committee wants to get together, whatever. So at this point, I’m only going to recognize members of this committee for questions. We are in other business. There’s, there’s another venue that you can utilize if you’ve got some questions, especially just picking up the phone and making a phone call. But with that, I’m going to recognize Representative Vaught.
Vaught And my question is not for them, sir, but it’s for you, Mr. Chair. So some schools were not given a choice to be able to give their teachers a bonus and they would like to give their teachers a bonus because other schools in their districts have enough ESSER funds that are left to give those bonuses. I want to know, kind of like Senator Chesterfield, if we can look to see if there’s ways for those schools that would have if they had known, if there’s a way for us to look for those monies. Because I feel bad– I mean, I feel like the department has put those schools at a disadvantage. Truly, I feel like they’ve put them at a disadvantage in the fact that they told them they could not use those monies for that. And now then the schools around them are doing it and they don’t have the funds to do it. And I think that’s something that we need to keep in mind. Thank you.
Dismang Thanks. Senator Ingram
Ingram Yeah. Just a point of clarification on that 648 million. 299 million at the end of the year is in the public school fund, and 349 million is in adequacy fund.
Dismang Okay. All right, Senator Irvin.
Irvin Just, follow up with Department of Ed, with Concord. They’ve put a freeze on their ARP spending and they’re waiting for clearance from someone at the federal level. But I think that means maybe from Department of Ed. So if you just don’t mind getting in touch with them so that they know that they can proceed with that. Thank you.
Dismang All right. Perfect. Members, I see no one else on the list. With that, we’ve concluded our other business and we are adjourned. Thank you.