Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva Brian Chilson

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained an error about layoffs at the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative. The story has been corrected. 

The news isn’t promising for the state’s 15 educational cooperatives. 

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State Education Department Secretary Jacob Oliva told legislators on Thursday in no uncertain terms that he was not happy with the return on investment from the cooperatives and that state Department of Education officials would reevaluate the $55.2 million earmarked each year for the cooperatives. 

“Our educational cooperatives have been receiving funding from the state, and I want to be perfectly clear, whether it is co-ops, school districts or anybody in the state thinks that we are just going to do business as usual and fund positions because that is what we have always funded and we don’t have a return on that investment, they need to know we are going to have a deeper conversation,” Oliva said during the Joint Budget Committee’s hearing on the state Department of Education budget hearing. 

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Arkansas Education Cooperatives were established in 1985 by Act 349, which set the limit at 15 for the state to act as an intermediate service provider for multiple school districts. The cooperatives offer such things as teacher professional development, help implementing state quality and accountability requirements, and help addressing problems in the classroom. 

In a story by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s Mike Wickline on Friday, Mundell said the state cooperatives funding from state general revenue includes $20.5 million for the Better Chance programs run by the cooperatives; $11 million for literacy, math and science specialists located at the cooperatives; $6 million for operating expenditures; $4 million for distance learning; and $4 million for teacher licensing mentoring. 

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Lesser amounts are given for a variety of programs, such as distance learning through Virtual Arkansas, the Reading Initiative for Student Excellence, professional development, English Language Learners, gifted and talented, special education services and technology grants, she told Wickline. His reporting can be found here

The largest part of the funding for the state’s educational cooperatives comes from the state, but it’s not their only source. The cooperatives get money from federal sources, the school districts they serve, miscellaneous local revenue and resale of supplies. 

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“That is not an entitlement appropriation, so we have let these co-ops know, don’t just guarantee and expect you are going to get this funding,” Oliva told the Joint Budget Committee. “We are going to re-evaluate how these districts are being supported because the reality is literacy and numeracy data hasn’t been improving in the last decade, but we have just been giving out dollars out the window, so we officially let them know we may not be giving you these dollars the way you have always received them.”

Rep. Denise Garner (D-Fayetteville) asked Oliva how the funds could be reallocated, to which Oliva replied they would be used to support literacy, science and math. 

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“We are going to support those initiatives,” he said. “We may not just be doing it the way we’ve always been doing it.”

Oliva told the lawmakers that the state is “just giving money” to co-ops and that money is “getting watered down” and not used as intended.

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“We are actually going to be elevating the support we are giving to the districts, I think, at a much more cohesive manner instead of a fragmented, uncoordinated process that we have been following,” he said.