Arkansas State Capitol

A bid by a group known for supporting school-choice policies to study public education funding in the state was rejected in a legislative committee meeting today. The Arkansas legislature will not have a consultant to help it examine how it funds K-12 education in the state.

In August, the education committees in the state House and Senate put out a bid for a consultant to do a deep dive into what’s known as adequacy funding in Arkansas. Every two years, the committees are tasked with developing recommendations for the legislature and governor on how much per-pupil spending should be to ensure that the state is funding students equitably and adequately as required by the state Constitution, according to the 2003 Lake View state Supreme Court case.

The nonpartisan Bureau of Legislative Research usually supplies the committees with research as they delve into adequacy funding, but lawmakers have said they wanted a deeper analysis from an outside party.

Two companies submitted bids. Shuls and Associates submitted a maximum bid of $499,236 and Augenblick, Palaich and Associates submitted a maximum bid of $659,580.

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The Shuls company was formed just days before lawmakers decided to seek bids for the project, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported yesterday. Its pitch was to work jointly with the University of Arkansas’s Office of Education Policy, whose research and analysis often favors school-choice policies backed by the Walton family’s school “reform” movement pushing charter schools and private school vouchers.

Some feared that, through the study, Shuls and the OEP would promote school-choice policies that would be embedded in the public policy framework of Arkansas’s school plan for the next decade.

The APA group got the needed votes to approve the bid on the House side of the committee, but fell one vote shy in the Senate committee.

Although state Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle), a reliable Waltonite and school choice supporter, made the motion to approve the Shuls bid, and state Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock), a reliable advocate for traditional public school, made the motion to approve the APA bid, the division on the contract didn’t fall neatly along party lines.

Rep. Jana Della Rosa (R-Bentonville) said she’d heard good things about the Shuls group. “My biggest concern is that I don’t know where their money comes from,” she said. She noted that they’d described it coming from grants, gifts and contracts.

“Contracts are fine,” she said. “But gifts? Who’s paying them? You don’t get to give money for nothing. There’s something you’re getting in return for that, which means there’s an agenda.”

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