Stephens Media managed amid a busy day at the Capitol to sit in on a legislative committee that heard a report on how the state’s school districts spend almost $200 million in annual state aid that is provided based on the number of poor children in a school district.
Bottom line: About half the money isn’t directed specifically at poor children, but spent for general school district expenses for all children, the biggest being teacher pay. Only 11 percent is being spent on tutoring or specific student-directed programs. The school spending law is flexible enough to allow this, Education Director Tom Kimbrell noted. This money has long been a sore spot with many legislators, particularly from districts with smaller numbers of disadvantaged kids.
Arkansas Advocates for Children is among those who think the money should be targeted at improving achievement among poor kids. (Also, too, the school reformers up at UA.) Failure to do this inevitably will put this categorical funding at risk. I do think there are likely some special cases — districts with large percentages of impoverished kids, 70 percent and more. In some particularly poor districts, I think you could argue that better pay to attract better teachers might amount to a categorical benefit.
The spending is known as National School Lunch spending because it’s based on the number of kids who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches under the federally financed nutrition program.