LITTLE ROCK — The House and Senate education committees voted Monday to recommend a $20 million increase over the next two years to a fund for “catastrophic” special education needs.
The committees added the recommended boost to a draft report they have been working on that will contain their recommendations for maintaining adequate funding to Arkansans’ public school system. Under state law, the report must be presented to House and Senate leaders by Nov. 1 in even-numbered years.
Schools with special education needs that are especially high can apply to the state Department of Education for catastrophic funding. The Legislature has held the funding 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.
In the 2014-15 school year, schools were eligible to receive a total of $30 million. Sen. Uvalde Lindsey, D-Fayetteville, who chairs a task force on special education, said schools have had to make up the difference by taking money from other areas.
“We are underfunding those needs of special education students by $19.3 million,” he said.
Lindsey moved that the education committees add to the draft adequacy report an increase to catastrophic funding of $10 million in fiscal 2018 and another $10 million in fiscal 2019, bringing the funding level to about $31 million. The motion passed in a voice vote.
Also Monday, the panel voted to amend the definition of adequacy in its report to include “sufficient education and preparation to enable each student to become career-ready.”
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, said the definition is flawed because it states that all students will be taught under the same curriculum frameworks and tested under the same testing system but does not address the opportunities that some schools offer to students and others do not.
“You cannot have art programs and special programs that would be enhancement and advanced and things like that or provide other kinds of opportunities while some because of poverty don’t have them,” he said.