From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The ongoing debate among legislators is a highly complex and emotional issue. How much should we spend on public education?
It’s emotional because so many people believe that investing in education should be one of our top priorities. Who doesn’t want the best for their children?
Others get emotional because they feel that we spend enough on public schools.
For legislators, the particular issue right now is whether we should hire a professional consultant to conduct a thorough study to determine whether we are funding our schools adequately.
I support my colleagues who prefer to hire a nationally recognized expert. Education has changed dramatically since our last in-depth adequacy study was completed in 2003.
We now require more dyslexia intervention, to improve overall literacy levels. We have higher curriculum standards. We have added computer coding to academic standards, and they require additional investment in technology and equipment.
Career training and preparation of tomorrow’s workforce has advanced tremendously since 2003. We provide more nursing, counseling and mental health services. School facilities are vastly improved over 15 years ago.
Unfortunately, there are some legislators who object to hiring a consultant because they fear that the experts will recommend that we spend too much money. If we don’t spend as much as the consultant recommends, they fear that we’d be liable in a school funding lawsuit.
They couldn’t be more wrong, as Arkansas history clearly proves.
In 2003 the consultants recommended that we increase education funding by $847 million. At the time Arkansas was under a court mandate to adequately fund schools.
The legislature increased funding, but at a lower level. From 2003 to 2004 we increased the Public School Fund by about $507 million.
Again in 2014, the legislature declined to fund the full range of increases recommended by the consultant, in categories ranging from classroom size to administrative salaries. No school district has gone to court to claim that its state funding is inadequate.
The state is not obligated to spend as much as the consultant recommends. However, refusing to hire a consultant places us in greater jeopardy of being sued, and losing the lawsuit, because it’s the equivalent of hiding our heads in the sand.
It’s also what is best for our children. We need to know how best to invest in their education. It’s that simple.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.