Despite shutdown, Assembly still at work
Teacher insurance remains at the head of the debate at the legislature. Last week I reported on Saturday about “the” plan to solve this entanglement. When I returned to Little Rock on Monday, it had been discarded and another had taken its place. We had two more plans arise during the week and none have been agreed to by a majority as of today (Sunday). So I truthfully don’t know where that leaves the issue. The latest plan came out Friday and has been hashed and rehashed this weekend by emails. Monday we may know if it sinks or swims. I feel like the issue may still have a long way to go, so I won’t even try to fully explain it. I will only say time is running short and decisions one way or the other must be made soon.
Of course, the “shutdown” is still in progress in Washington and we get calls daily to stop it. I know little about the weather in D.C. either. It does seem a shame when grownups can’t come to some sort of agreement and just do the right thing.
Earlier in the week I attended a meeting with several community college leaders at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton (hereafter referred to as UACCM). The meeting allowed them to air their grievances over the higher education funding formula. Legislation in 2003 set up a funding formula for schools in the higher education system that based funding on several factors, including enrollment, classes, class sizes, facilities, etc. Now the community colleges (and some 4-year institutions) feel they aren’t getting “their fair share” or “enough” funding. They refer to it as equity funding. They say the formula has never been fully funded because a large portion of educational funding goes to Pre-K-12 schools. However, there is just “so much” money to go around.
You may be surprised to learn that Arkansas has 11 four-year schools and 22 two-year institutions. That in itself seems a high number to me. The last few years the formula funding has allowed only new, increased funding to go to schools who are receiving less than 75% of the total amount due them based on the formula. Basically they now want their funding increased by way of revisiting the formula.
It was an interesting and “enlightening” discussion and will likely be given some thought. However funds must not be taken from one to benefit another and recent tax cuts may eventually create further spending cuts. One idea circulating to help solve this need involves finding money to provide 75 percent of equity to all schools and have the institutions conversely pledge not to raise tuition fees for a number of years. However, this may be detrimental to some smaller institutions. I doubt there will ever be enough money to meet every state institution, agency and program’s “needs”. We certainly should also remember Grandma’s adage about “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.
I also attended the last meeting of the Task Force for a new veteran’s home. The current task force expires October 31. However, the legislative members feel that the legislature needs to maintain some input, oversight and involvement to ensure that the site selection for the veterans home takes into consideration the interests and well-being of Arkansas’ veterans. Therefore the task force will be recommending that the Arkansas Legislative Council create a Veteran’s Home Subcommittee to be comprised of five House and five Senate members to continue to review the process of the ADVA’s site selection. This subcommittee would expire on January 31, 2015. Since tax dollars will build the new home, taxpayers need a voice in planning decisions.
I have also been involved with the monthly Legislative Auditing Committees’ meetings. Many audit reports that had negative audit findings were reviewed. Some findings were major; others were oversights and/or misunderstandings that were not severe enough to justify possible prosecution. This is a monthly task taken on to monitor the spending of public funds after the state auditors perform their duties.
One unusual occurrence did take place. The Legislative Joint Auditing Committee’s executive committee decided to swear in all public officials and others who testify in committee hearings from this point forward in the spirit of treating all “witnesses” equally. I can’t see any harm in that. We have had too many “he said, she said” testimonies.
Governor Beebe also announced last week that more Arkansans will be furloughed this week if their jobs receive any federal funding. The number of employees furloughed by this week could exceed 1,000. These are “trying times”.
In the midst of all these affairs of the state, the Arkansas State Fair commenced on Friday. As a point of levity, I was honored to be asked to help in the “judging” of the Pillsbury Pet-Ritz Pie Contest late Friday afternoon. Yum! Yum! It was an enjoyable task (to say the least)! If you get a chance, and that’s your “thing”, go out and support our state fair this week.
Hopefully the teacher insurance crisis will be “laid to rest” by next week. Meanwhile have a great week!