State Capitol Week in Review – July 2, 2021

LITTLE ROCK – The state Board of Education has approved another round of plans submitted by Arkansas school districts that want the option of offering online classes in the fall.


At a special meeting, the Board approved 60 applications from school districts and charter schools.

The Board is prepared to decide on up to 50 additional applications before school resumes. Counting decisions made at previous meetings, the Board so far has approved about 90 applications by school districts.


Applications to offer virtual classes are usually accompanied by a request for a waiver from traditional education standards.


Waivers exempt the schools from regulations that limit maximum class sizes and the number of students assigned to an individual teacher. Also, the Board can grant waivers that reduce the total number of hours a student must spend in a particular course.


Board members had questions about plans by some districts to have teachers conducting online classes while also teaching students in the classroom. In response, representatives of those districts said that fewer students are expected to take online classes this year.


Also, teachers will have more training in online education this year, compared to last year when the Covid-19 pandemic caused so much disruption in schools.


Some school districts plan to sign contracts with private vendors that specialize in online classes.


So far, the Board has approved all the plans submitted by local school districts. Many virtual courses will be recorded, rather than live, so that students can take the online classes at any time of the day.


Last school year the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted everyone involved in education, from administrators and teachers to students and parents. Support staff in the cafeteria and bus drivers were affected, as were cleaning staff who had to sanitize classrooms more frequently.


Revised Forecast

June 30 was the final day of the state’s 2021 fiscal year. The governor and budget officials revised the official forecast upward, to reflect better than anticipated revenue over the past 12 months. The forecast was raised by about $212 million for the fiscal year.


Tax collections are an accurate barometer of the state’s economic economy because tax rates have not gone up. Increases in state revenue mean that business activity has grown and more people are working.


Federal stimulus payments to individuals and businesses were a factor that recovery of the Arkansas economy.


Under the new forecast, state general revenue for Fiscal Year 2021 will be about $5.89 billion.


The governor announced that the revised forecast means that an additional $86.6 million will be transferred into the state’s Medicaid trust fund. That increases the fund to more than $600 million, and bolsters Medicaid’s ability to reimburse medical providers who care for the elderly, people with disabilities and patients from low-income families.


The revised revenue forecast also means that the state’s long term reserve fund will be about $1.2 billion. Budget officials think the reserve fund is enough to improve the state’s bond ratings.


Some education institutions can carry forward unspent money from one fiscal year to the next. The revised forecast means that they will have about $101 million for Fiscal Year 2022.