Posted by Jerri Derlikowski on January 7th 2014
How do we close the achievement gap? The answer is quality after-school and summer programs and early childhood education. The Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) has just completed an excellent report detailing these and other key strategies for improving achievement of low-income and minority students.
One source of funding that may be used for after-school and summer programs is provided to school districts based on their number of low-income students and is commonly referred to as NSLA funding (after the National School Lunch Act). However, districts have used NSLA funds for a long list of programs that aren't listed in the latest BLR report. These findings are consistent with 2012 studies from the BLR and the University of Arkansas's Office of Education Policy. Each study found that, currently, NSLA funding is used in such a piecemeal fashion that improvements to achievement can't be established. The findings of all these reports are consistent with research completed by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families in 2010.
Changing the ways in which districts can use these funds would not cost the state anything. However, school superintendents hope to maintain the current laundry list of eligible uses (even those that are not proven to help close the achievement gap) and piecemeal budgeting strategies-policies that have resulted in little benefit to low-income and minority students.
The education funding bill for 2013-Act 1467-required the legislature to study (once again) the best uses of NSLA funding. The report made by the BLR on January 7, 2014, is a significant part of that requirement. The act also requires that the Education Committees make recommendations for "a list of evidence-based programs" on which NSLA funds can be spent.
The BLR report released today also lists some strategies that are already covered by the state's per-student foundation funding such as quality teachers. Another example is professional development, which is properly addressed through other funding sources. NSLA funding should be used for the strategies identified by the BLR that aren't provided for in other adequacy funding. Those strategies are after-school and summer programs and early childhood education.