Pre-session budget hearings are underway in the General Assembly
Greetings! Did you get enough rain over the weekend? We got 4.2 inches Friday night followed by a good shower on Saturday. I hated that it rained most of the Wiggins Cabin Festival out though!
In our first week of pre-session budget hearings we heard reports, proposals and requests from over 30 state boards (of the approximately 220 total boards and agencies). These boards oversee everything from the medical profession to embalmers to vehicle towing operations.
Here’s a brief summary of the procedure for each report. Before hearing from a board or agency director we are given: a history of the organization, the most recent audit findings, the number of contracts the board has awarded to minorities and an employment summary. We have provided you access to the same information on our website at www.arkansashouse.org. Then we get their financial reports and budget requests for the next biennium.
The Arkansas Budget Request System was developed in the 1980’s and was called the Priority Budget System. The requests by state agencies and institutions presented to the Legislature uses a “Line Item” format which shows how much and for what purpose the agency or institution intends to use the requested funds. These budget requests also include any “Change Levels” which show the detail of any increase or decrease to the Base Level. The Base Level is the amount needed for an agency or institution to continue current services.
During these pre-session hearings, each agency head appears before the committee and presents his or her case and reaction to the Governor’s budget recommendations for his\her entity.
The committee then considers the agency and Governor’s requests, recommends spending levels to the next General Assembly, recommends state employee salary levels and directs the preparation of appropriation bills.
Next week the committee will hear from the Insurance Department, the Game and Fish Commission, Parks and Tourism, the State Police and several more state agencies.
We know Arkansans have worked hard for every dollar that comes into the state. That is why we spend several weeks reviewing expenditures and requests for increased funding before the session begins. It has been a very interesting process so far. I can tell you I was pleasantly surprised that a few of the entities reviewed thus far actually sought no increases. Wow! I will continue to keep you updated on the process.
In other education news, Thursday the Arkansas Board of Education approved an A-F letter rating system to be applied to most of the state’s public schools in much the same way students are graded.
The letter grades are required by Act 696 of 2013 and are meant to be easier for parents and other community members to understand. The letter grades will replace the older, little-noticed state practice of rating schools on a scale of 1-5. The grades do not carry any penalties or rewards for the schools.
The school grades, which will be based in part on last spring’s Benchmark and End-of-Course state test results, will be announced in late November or early December. The timing for the release of the school grades is tied to the state Department of Education completing its annual school achievement report that lists which schools met or failed to meet their annual achievement goals on the state tests.
Arkansas is joining at least 14 other states in using A-F letter grades, according to a report by the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. Florida, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina are some of the other southern states that apply letter grades to schools.
Education continues to be our top priority in Arkansas, and we know that one of our biggest educational challenges is increasing the number of Arkansans who earn college degrees. This week we received positive news reinforcing our long-term progress toward that goal. In the last school year, the number of Arkansas students taking Advanced Placement, or AP, exams increased, as did their overall scores. This is an optimistic sign, because AP courses provide students with valuable preparation for the work they’ll encounter in college.
Research shows that students who take an AP class have a higher grade point average in college than others and are more likely to graduate. Part of the reason for our improved results is our state’s education policy. Arkansas is the only state in the nation that pays for AP exams. This equalizes the opportunity for all of our students to participate in the programs. Arkansas law requires every public high school to provide an AP course in math, English, social studies and science. Higher standards and ambitious goals produce positive results. Advanced Placement courses, while harder than normal high-school classes, can help knock down the financial and academic barriers many students face in pursuit of college degrees, while preparing students for the competition they will face when they enter the workforce to pursue the careers they choose.
Arkansas’ ongoing improvement in Arkansas AP scores shows that more of our students are better preparing for college and the 21st-century economy. It is critical that we persist in striving to do even better. As long as we remain focused on prioritizing education, we will see more of our young people realize their potential. Their success is the key to our state’s success in the years to come.
My heart has always been in Education. Next year I will likely have the opportunity to serve in leadership of the House Education Committee. I am honored and thrilled. Senators Jeffress and Cheatham formerly carried that banner for Southeast Arkansas. I am humbled and grateful to be able to continue in their footsteps.
Have a great week! Go Billies! Go Pirates! Go Lions! Soar Eagles!