The Arkansas Legislative Council policy-making subcommittee today failed to approve a consulting contract to review whether education funding in Arkansas is adequate.
The Joint Education Committee has twice recommended such a study, which would update such a project last performed in 2006. The recommendation was to hire Augenblick, Palaich and Associates for $659,580.
The policy committee threw a wrench in this earlier by recommending another firm to also do a study. It was the new firm of Shuls and Associates. Its key members are known as “school choice” advocates and the general belief was that they’d be less likely to recommend more state spending on schools. The full Legislative Council then rejected both contracts.
The Education Committee approved the APA contract again Monday. It was presented with little preamble to the policy committee today by Sen. Jane English and Rep. Bruce Cozart. A motion for adoption was offered without debate. Then came the roll call vote, first for the Senate side of the policy committee. The motion failed on a tie vote. That killed the measure for the day so the House side didn’t vote.
The “no” votes were Sens. Bob Ballinger, Cecile Bledsoe, Ron Caldwell, Blake Johnson and Scott Flippo. The ayes were Sens. Terry Rice, Linda Chesterfield, Will Bond, Joyce Elliott and Eddie Cheatham.
English said afterward, “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in the whole process.” She said she knew of no other occasion when the policy committee had overridden recommendations of committees with subject-area expertise.
The unspoken story here is that the state has gradually fallen behind in supporting education commensurate with needs and inflationary cost increases and the Republican-dominated legislature would rather cut income taxes on the wealthy than spend more on government services. Thus many want to discourage a study of school spending and others, including the governor, want to privatize prisons and perhaps other services to save money. When profit-making ventures take over government functions for a lower cost they don’t make their profit by providing superior services.
UPDATE: The subcommittee will report its vote to the full Legislative Council, which meets Friday. A member may make a motion to take a vote on the contract if a majority of the quorum agrees.