BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas School Recognition and Reward Program has awarded monetary grants to 215 schools that have been deemed “high performing” based on test results and other criteria from last school year.
The awards were made to 109 schools that placed in the top 10 percent and 106 schools that were ranked in the top 20 percent. Arkansas has more than 1,100 schools from kindergarten through grade 12.
About $7 million, available from the governor’s portion of the state General Improvement Fund, was distributed among the award-winning schools. A school in the top 10 percent category received $90 per student and a school ranked from the top 11 percent to the top 20 percent category was eligible to receive $45.10 per student.
Each school is to form a committee to determine the best way to spend the award money. The committee is to be composed of the principal, a teacher selected by the faculty and a parent selected by the local PTA or other parental involvement group.
Schools are able to use the money for staff bonuses or to hire temporary personnel to improve or help maintain student performance. Also, the schools may use the money for additional equipment and materials.
The most recent criteria for determining school performance were set out in Act 1429 of 2013, and they include not only the results of standardized tests but also improvement on those tests from one year to the next. For high schools, graduation rates are a factor.
Schools are ineligible to receive the awards if they are in the categories of “Needs Improvement-Focus” and “Needs Improvement-Priority.”
New Prison Space
Legislative staff submitted a comprehensive study on prison funding to the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Government Affairs. The report will be a starting point for the legislature’s work on prisons, sentencing, parole and probation during the 2015 regular session.
The operating budget for state prisons has grown immensely in the past 10 years because of the surge in the inmate population. In Fiscal 2004 the Department of Correction, which operates prison units, had a general revenue budget of $202 million, with special revenues of $6.6 million. Last year, in Fiscal 2014, the operating budget received $313 million from the state’s general revenue fund. The department had $15 million in special revenue.
The Department of Community Correction is a separate agency that oversees drug courts, parole and probation, work release programs, boot camp and drug rehabilitation in a secure facility. Its general revenue budget has grown from $44 million in 2004 to $77 million last year.
Another perspective is that the Correction and the Community Correction Departments’ budgets now account for 7.76 percent of the state’s general revenue spending. In 2004 they amounted to 6.83 percent of general revenue spending. In other words, the state now allocates money for housing inmates that used to be spent on other services.
The inmate population has doubled in the past 20 years and is approaching 18,000. More than 2,300 of those were being housed in county jails last week because of a lack of space in state prison units.
Almost 28,000 offenders are on probation and another 22,000 are out of prison on parole. There are more than 2,200 going through drug court programs. Almost 2,000 inmates are in Community Correction centers going through drug counseling or job training.