GRAVETTE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — When it comes to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ LEARNS plan for the future of Arkansas education, the proposed changes to school choice have some worried it would take away funding from the state’s more rural schools.
The Gravette School District Superintendent, Maribel Childress said she hopes the school choice portion of the bill will afford students the flexibility they need, but she doesn’t want parents to stop choosing to send their kids to public schools.
Childress said school choice is already an option for Arkansas parents, but there are limits to the number of transfers. Also, it’s currently up to the parents to fund the school switch.
Once law, Arkansas LEARNS would take away those limits, and allow the funding to follow the student to the district of their choice. This supports parents’ ability to afford the move but may hurt the school their child is leaving.
Childress said funding for next school year is already determined by this year’s average student attendance, so school districts wouldn’t see the financial changes right away.
“The impact in terms of student enrollment and the impact in terms of finances is all just a big unknown. So there’s going to be a lot of wait-and-see. I expect a lot of districts will be conservative in some of the choices that they make this first year,” said Childress.
Childress said each district has a unique revenue stream between the money coming in from the city, and from the state. She said the Gravette School District has a strong enough city tax base that it doesn’t receive a lot of state funding.
It’s the state funding that’s affected by the school’s enrollment each year.
“The biggest unknowns come down to that financial piece, because I want to make sure that we can continue to pay all of our employees, and that we’re able to keep all of our employees. I want to make sure that none of our programs are impacted, that we’re still able to have great summer schools and great after-school programs,” said Childress.
She said each year they have more students choose to come into their district, rather than leave.
If the LEARNS bill passes, Childress said school choice changes would roll out over the course of the next three years. She said the first group of students who would be able to take advantage of school choice changes are those with special needs or who attend schools with a ‘D’ or ‘F’ rating.
You can take a look at school letter grades here.