Senate Education Committee

October 18, 2022

 

Irvin Call to order Senate Education Committee meeting. I appreciate everybody being here this morning. Members, on your desk you have a draft of this proposal and I’m going to run through it real quick. But I have some teammate help with Senator Sturch just to discuss one of the main reforms that we have in this recommendation. And also Senator Beckham has some additional information as well. So, members, I’m just going to go through this real quick. Overall, the report is focused on moving from adequacy to excellence. This is by focusing the needs of teachers and students, particularly the students that are facing various learning challenges such as poverty and other learning challenges. So what I’ve done is I’ve reflected in these recommendations all of the discussion that’s occurred over the past year during the adequacy study. And before I even start, I really want to thank our staff, Ms. Julie Holt and her team and Ms. Taylor Lloyd and her team. Can we just give them a round of applause because they’ve just done a tremendous amount of work? I really appreciate those, our folks at BLR. And Ms. Nelson, thank you so much as well, and your staff. To move on, these are the recommendations, like I said, are focused on teachers and students.

And so if you’ll follow me through the  recommendations starting in line one. This was a recommendation by Representative Lee Johnson. We’re adding the APA’s recommended definition for college and career readiness to our adequacy definition. I think this is important because it provides clear goals of the skills and the knowledge that we want our schools to equip our students with by the time they graduate. This definition focuses on career as well as college. I know that Senator English has been a big proponent of career readiness, and so incorporating that into our adequacy definition, I think is a really good recommendation that was brought forth by Representative Lee Johnson. So that way they can be successful, whether they’re moved from a two year to a four year college, technical program, military service or any other entry level career position.

In line four, we added the 1.0 full time FTE for computer science teacher in grades 1 through 12 to meet the need for the new graduation requirement. That’s important because it follows and tracks existing policy that this General Assembly has already adopted. So we added that new computer science and career position. We also increased the number of special education teacher FTEs from 2.9 to 3.3. The reason we did this was to really better address the needs of the population of the students. There was a lot of discussion during the adequacy study and recommendations by members of the legislature about special ed and really looking to retool that. So as we kind of put our heads together and went through those different recommendations from members on special ed, we decided to attack it this way. In lines 5 through 6, we’re following the guidance of the Segal recommendations on the health benefits and beginning the medical CPIU rate of increase for health insurance in fiscal year 2025.

And then in line 7, we’ve increased the base teacher salary by $4,000, moving it from a base of $36,000 to $40,000. And that would begin in fiscal year 2024, which is calendar year July 1, 2023. We’ve also included a draft bill that’s included at the back of this report. So you could see where that raise to raise the minimum teacher salary by $4,000 at each step. So the first year, teachers are guaranteed a $40,000 starting salary. So that draft legislation is at the back of your recommendation. That draft bill is at the back of this report. In line 10, we’ve added funds to supply a $2 increase in salary to certified employees. Line 11 contains funding for personnel in the matrix who are not teachers, principals or secretaries. In the categorical funding section, we’ve actually created a pretty significant reform that Senator Sturch really worked hard on with our staff at BLR.

In the categorical funding section in line 25, we followed the APA’s recommendation to equalize the ESA funding. That’s enhanced student achievement funding for all students, regardless of the concentration of poverty in the school. This will allow the ESA funding to be tied to foundation funding with a weight of 12% and therefore move at the same rate that the foundation funds do. This stabilizes that fund, and I’ll let Senator Sturch speak a little bit more to this. We think that this allows the money to be there for each qualifying student, and it really focuses on the student and making sure each student has that certain amount of money and creates stability in the funding for the districts as well. This avoids the cliffs so we’re really removing that whole idea and then changing this major aspect of this categorical fund. Senator Sturch, I’m going to recognize you. Senator Sturch, you’re recognized. 

 

Sturch Thank you, Madam Chair. And you did a very good job of explaining it. Like I said in our last meeting, this was a recommendation we’ve had now on the table for two years about trying to equalize some of this ESA funding more to a multiplier instead of these cliffs that we had been doing. Three different levels. Up to 70% of free and reduced lunch was one level, 70 to 90 was another, and then over 90 was another. The majority of students then who qualify for this were under the 90%, of course, over 230,000 students, whereas only 6000 students or so were in the 90% or above. So we’re trying to get away from this idea that one student in poverty in East Arkansas is different than a student in South Arkansas in poverty. We’re trying to treat it as the same, as a multiplier to help the schools in an equal way. We didn’t want to do this reform, just pull out the rug and do it all at once. This will be phased in over four years to where it gets, based on amounts, it gets closer over the four years to everybody being at that .112 or 12%, like you said, multiplier. So we won’t be changing all this at once. But over the next four years, in this adequacy study plus the next one, we get close to where everybody would be funded the same regardless of their percentages of poverty. It would be based on the students that you actually have in the school where every student is treated the same. Thank you. 

 

Irvin Thank you. And this was also a recommendation that was submitted by some of the associations. So we appreciate those. We reviewed all those and tried to incorporate those into this Senate recommendation. We’ve also added a categorical that is focused on teachers and it’s the merit teacher incentive funding. This would begin in fiscal year 2025. This would be a fund districts could use to reward teachers based on effectiveness, demand and experience. And this will allow teachers to be paid extra for contributions they make while remaining in the classroom. I really like the categorization that Senator Elliott actually used about instead of career ladders, career lattices, and she spoke specifically about that. I think it’s important to understand that this is something that is happening in our neighboring states, and we talk about that a lot.

But the Merit Teacher Incentive Fund could be based on current policy that we use for our rewards program, which tracks growth in students, so making sure that just students are growing in their academic achievement and rewarding that appropriately. So that’s an additional $70 million that’s put into a categorical fund that goes specifically for teachers, that ability to earn that additional money. So if they get to that point in fiscal year 2025, then there’s enough money there for an additional $2,000 if you decide to cap it at that. So that would get them to actually a $42,000, which is $500 more than Mississippi’s starting base salary. So in terms of supplemental funding, we’ve also rolled the ESA grants into the ESA reimbursement. So that funding line is eliminated. And that goes back to what Senator Sturch just discussed on the ESA reform. And then in line 29, we’re keeping the additional professional development funding at $16.5 million in both years. And then after making the increases for the above items, we believe it’s best to increase furthering our goal of really focusing on teachers and students.

We’ve increased all the other items each year by the CPI youth cost of living increase, which was recommended by BLR. It’s 1.84 for fiscal year 2024, 2.16 for fiscal year 2025. That ensures that we can keep up with our inflation. Finally, these are the last recommendations. We’re recommending that we do follow the APA recommendation to create a legislative task force to study out of school factors that inhibit student performance at school. This was a recommendation that Senator Elliot actually put forward. I worked on some draft legislation, but I think it’s important that we continue to work on that draft legislation, and we can do that between now and November 1. And as we submit our final report to our President Pro tem, we’re also recommending that alternative learning educators monitor student academic achievement and annually report to DESE and to the education committees. And that was Senator Chesterfield’s recommendation. I think it’s a good one. And again, we had draft legislation for that. We believe that the APA recommendation to add a categorical fund for special education is a good one, but we think it deserves more study.

And then finally, we want to create, and I think this wraps all these last ones together, we want to create a K through 12 public school education funding legislative task force. This would be specific to study the education funding within the context of our processes. It should be modeled on the tax reform and health care reform task forces to look at items including but not limited to the following things: moving from a prior year to a current year funding model, studying the inequities in funding small school districts caused by per pupil funding and finding a model to address that, and then finding the best methods for funding education based on best practices and research and current spending practices that lead to high levels of student performance. We believe that this would be something that would happen outside of the adequacy study. The adequacy study would continue on like it always does. It serves a perfunctory role, and it’s required. But this would be something that would be outside of that, that would just really focus on the funding mechanism that we utilize with this matrix and this adequacy formula and really give the legislature the ability to focus on that funding mechanism and to look at other states, other best practices so that we can really reach more of a high level of student performance.

And with that, I’m going to recognize Senator Beckham because what he is talking about with the data that we’ve pulled for him, I think falls into this recommendation. And I think it’s a really good one. It also is, before he speaks, Representative Rick Beck had presented about this two years ago on the small schools are always behind because we fund at a 500 per pupil when the majority of our schools actually fall below 500. And so we looked at trying to create a small school equity fund to help our small schools. But we just couldn’t get there to get the details flushed out. And a legislative task force would really have the time to dig into that and understand that and then make a good recommendation. Senator Beckham, you’re recognized. 

 

Beckham Thank you, Madam Chair. Several months ago, I asked for a report that showed the summary of per pupil expenditures for the matrix and non matrix funding, and BLR was kind enough to get that put together to your direction. I’d like to have this– I’d like to make a motion to include this in the report. 

 

Irvin Motion. Is there a second? Second. All right. All those in favor say aye. Okay. 

 

Beckham And, you know, we give members a few minutes to look at it. It’s a pretty interesting report. 

 

Irvin You want to go ahead and talk about it? 

 

Beckham Sure, we can. What it shows is, like I said, the per pupil expenditures for matrix and non matrix resources as well as average teacher salaries for top and bottom 5% of the cohort schools. The first two tables show the total expenditures and per pupil expenditure at the top and bottom 5%. So if you look at that, you’ll see the, like I said, the matrix and non matrix expenditures. It’s pretty interesting when you start digging into where schools choose to spend money. Right. The very first line for me is pretty eye opening where the bottom 5% spend around $7 per pupil on kindergarten, where the top five is spending $548 per pupil. You’ll see the same story over and over again, where the money spent shows up in the test scores. 

 

Irvin Yep. And so early education, I think is such a– I think what this gives us the ability to kind of get a snapshot. And it’s good information that we’re going to include in the recommendation and the report. But it goes to the whole idea that this really deserves its own legislative task force to study exactly those spending habits and those results and what can be achieved from that. But then really looking at all these other models that are out there. And I think we do have a unique opportunity to really do this, that it, you know, changing over to a different funding model is an important one, but it’s something that we could actually plan for. And we perhaps have enough budget, we have enough money in surplus to be able to actually achieve something like that if that’s something that the legislature can go through and do. And I’m just, again, talking about the way we fund and the adequacy matrix and the process that we have. So with that, are there any questions? Yes, ma’am. Senator Chesterfield, you’re recognized. 

 

Chesterfield Thank you and my apologies. [00:15:35]I thank Senator Sturch for alerting me to the meeting. I’m sure it was on a calendar somewhere, but I missed it. And Senator Elliott saids her regrets because she missed it, too. [8.6s] What are we talking about baseline salary for teachers? And what are we talking about baseline salaries for classified?

 

Irvin So for classified, there’s an additional $2 built in for our classified to– 

 

Chesterfield So we’re keeping what the House had. 

 

Irvin Well, with that, yes. The base salary moves to– it is a $4,000 recommendation to get to a base salary of $40,000 starting in fiscal year 2024, calendar year, July 1, 2023. 

 

Chesterfield So we haven’t done anything different? 

 

Irvin No, we have done it differently. And then we’ve added the teacher merit, the Merit Teacher Incentive Fund for fiscal year 2025, which creates an additional categorical fund for teacher pay. 

 

Chesterfield So you haven’t done anything different for the average teacher. 

 

Irvin No. 

 

Chesterfield You have not raised the baseline salary. We’re still below Mississippi, is that what you’re saying? 

 

Irvin What I’m saying is–

 

Chesterfield Based on salary. 

 

Irvin The baseline salary that we are– 

 

Chesterfield It’s less than $41,500, right? 

 

Irvin It’s less than $41,500. But fiscal year 2025, give them the opportunity to actually raise that by an additional $2,000. Are there other questions? Yes, ma’am. 

 

Chesterfield Let me just say this with all the merit and all that stuff. If you start out behind, you stay behind. Arkansas is now behind all of the surrounding states. One of the reasons I voted against the House recommendation is because I thought we in the Senate would raise it to at least $42,000. We have not done that. So we’re looking at classified employees who now must, as Senator Sturch pointed out, be a part of the teacher retirement system, which takes an additional 6% or more out of their salaries each pay period. They’re already making nothing. And so we’re talking about giving them $2. It’s insulting. We’re talking about saying to our teachers, yeah, we want you to be– we want to be adequate. There’s nothing adequate about being paid less than your counterparts in your surrounding states. [00:17:54]So I’m disappointed. I offered my suggestions. Of course, they were not taken. I don’t know when we put this together or with whom you put it together. I was not a part of that group, so I just wanted to express my consternation. Thank you. [15.1s]

 

Irvin Thank you. Are there any other questions? All right. Senator Sturch, you’re recognized. 

 

Sturch Thank you, Madam Chair. I wanted to ask, I’m going to go to our chart here, the Excel spreadsheet. Now, on the second page, health insurance for classified employees. That $38.88 is an increase to cover theirs, is it not? I mean, that was not there before. So beyond just the salary for the increase, we’ve also then increased what portion we give for the classified employees health insurance? 

 

Irvin That’s correct. 

 

Sturch Okay. 

 

Irvin That is a significant increase. 

 

Sturch Okay. Thank you. 

 

Irvin Are there any other questions? All right. Seeing none, is there a– Senator English. Yes, ma’am. 

 

English So overall, I’m in favor of this recommendation, especially some of the things that we’ve added. And I love Senator Beckham’s review here of some of the things, and I am definitely all in favor of us setting up a task force because I have long felt as I’ve sat through these adequacy meetings year after year, as we punch numbers that end up meaning really practically nothing. And it’s time that we begin to look at this whole process and the funding model again and decide what our priorities are. And I have pushed, probably to no avail, to see that all teachers have a pay raise, a $4,000 pay raise in this 2023. But I think that there are a lot of things out there that we really need to be looking at differently. What we’re doing right now is what we were doing 20 years ago. And the world has changed in 20 years. And if getting a really good education for all, which there’s no silver bullet. There’s no amount of money in the world that’s going to ensure every single solitary student is well prepared and heading off to whatever their future is. We can try the best we can, but we do need to start looking at different ways of funding because this obviously just isn’t working. Nobody really cares about anything except that bottom number down there. And what else is in the matrix doesn’t really matter to the average school district. Some superintendents don’t even realize that some of his money is supposed to go to teacher pay. So I’m more than excited about having a task force outside of the adequacy funding to begin to look at what is it we really want to do and how are we going to get there. So thank you. 

 

Irvin Thank you, Senator English. I think it’s gonna be a lot of work, but it’s going to be fruitful and good work for sure. Any other questions? I really do want to thank everybody for helping on this, Senator Beckham, Senator Sturch, for sure. Senator Sturch, the reforms that we used with the ESA and smoothing that out, that is finally a recommendation that we’re able to act on and put some money towards through the consultants that made that recommendation years ago. And so he worked– Senator Sturch worked really, really hard on that. And so I’m really grateful because, I mean, you have a great mind for this, but you also have a great passion being a teacher yourself. And I think it’s such a great reform and I’m glad it’s one that we can fully recommend and show that we can work it in and focus this on students. And I think your passion for students is always at the forefront of everything you do. So just, I really wanted to say thank you for that. Senator Beckham, you’re recognized. 

 

Chesterfield Who turned my light on?

 

Irvin Oh, I’m sorry. I was trying. 

 

Beckham Thank you. I’d like to make a motion to pass all the recommendations included in section 21 of the report, which includes, among other adequacy related items, providing a $4,000 raise to the base salary and each subsequent step under the teacher compensation program of 2003 for teachers in FY 2024, increasing the number of FTEs for special education and computer science, establishing the Merit Teacher Incentive Fund, establishing a task force to study the current education funding model holistically, including adequacy funding and the impact of education funding on the state budget and setting the rate for the amount of division of elementary and secondary education– setting the amount that the division of Elementary and Secondary Education provides for the EBD for public school employee health insurance and rate that the school districts pay EBD per participating employee for Health Insurance using the medical CPI recommendations made by the Segal group. 

 

Irvin Is there a second? Second. All those in favor say aye. And opposed?

 

Chesterfield No. 

 

Irvin Ayes have it. Alright. Is there any other business to come before the committee. 

 

Chesterfield Point of personal privilege? 

 

Irvin You’re recognized. 

 

Chesterfield Thank you, Madam Chair. I believe, from what I’m hearing, that there may be improvements in what the House did. It’s just very disconcerting to find out that you’ve already met and feeling that some of us are more equal than others in the process. It seems to me, Senator Sturch knew about the recommendations. Senator Beckham knew about the recommendations. Senator Elliott and I did not know about the recommendations. I’m just not accustomed to being excluded from the we– well I am accustomed to being excluded from the we, because every time I think I’m on the team, I find out I don’t have a uniform. But it is very, very disconcerting to me that you already knew what you were going to do, you came in here with it already prepared, you never contacted us to be a part of the conversation. With that, thank you. 

 

Irvin Are there any other comments or business to come before the committee? With that, we are adjourned. Thank you.