LITTLE ROCK — The House and Senate education committees failed Monday to adopt a report containing recommendations for funding public schools at a level that would maintain educational adequacy over the next two fiscal years.
The committees are required to submit an educational adequacy report to the governor no later than Nov. 1 in every even-numbered year. But a draft plan failed to receive enough votes for adoption Monday when the panels split along party lines, with Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against it.
House Education Committee Chairman Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, said he believed the committees could continue to meet and would approve a report, but he said it would not happen by the deadline because no joint meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.
Late Monday afternoon, an 8 a.m. Tuesday meeting of the Senate Education Committee was added to the online legislative calendar, but no meeting of the House Education Committee was on the calendar.
Cozart said he did not believe missing the deadline would matter.
“They’re not going to put me in jail,” he told reporters.
State Education Commissioner Johnny Key said he also believed missing the deadline would not be an obstacle.
“There’s been times in the past when adequacy reports have been modified after the fact or maybe delayed for whatever reason, so I’m not worried. This is part of the legislative process, and they’ll keep working on it,” he said.
Mark Hudson, an analyst with the state Bureau of Legislative Research, said the bureau is researching the matter, but it appears that if the committees do not adopt an adequacy report, it will be up to the governor to craft a budget proposal that meets adequacy for public schools.
“It’s new territory here,” Hudson cautioned. “It’s never happened this way before.”
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said the governor’s office is reviewing the matter.
The vote that was put to the committees was on the adoption of a report recommending a 1.12 percent increase in per-student funding and on removal from the draft report of any funding increase for catastrophic special education needs.
House Minority Leader Michael John Gray, D-Augusta, told reporters Democrats wanted to recommend a 2.5 percent increase in per-student funding, but he said the split was also philosophical.
“I think it was more along the lines of priorities and what those priorities really are,” he said.
Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, said he voted against the report because he opposes keeping funding flat for catastrophic special education needs. He said the funding has been held at about $11 million for the past five years, but the number of students with catastrophic needs has risen in that time from 487 to 1,136.
“It would appear to me that what this committee is doing is lending itself toward the process of being in violation of the mandate that the state of Arkansas will provide an adequate, equitable education for every child, no matter what their zip code or disability or whatever,” Lindsey said.