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NSLA Bill Has Superintendent’s Attention

Booneville Schools Superintendent John K. Parrish told the Booneville School Board last week he is paying attention to Senate Bill 811 but indications are the bill will not have a negative effect on the school here if it were to pass.

The bill, which Parrish called a “smoothing” bill, would change the way National School Lunch Act money is distributed to schools.

Currently, schools who have less than 70 percent of their population on the free or reduced lunch program are funded at $517 per student each year. Once a district reaches 70 percent, and maintains it, the funding jumps to $1,033.

Rather than the large jump, the proposed law would fund schools through a weighted formula that establishes a sliding scale of funding.

Because Booneville reached the 70 percent plateau just this year, the school was set to receive about $620,000 in NSLA funding. If the law passes the district would get $693,000.

A drawback, Parrish said, would be if the new formula were phased in over five years and the school received only 20 percent of what the formula dictated the first year as the increase would be only about $48,000, rather than $167,000 or $240,000.

Minus a phasing structure another catch is under the funding structure if the school reaches 70 percent for the next two school years, the funded amount would eventually reach $954,000, but it wouldn’t under the new law.

It is the relatively quick jump from the current funding level — $453,000 to $954,000 for Booneville — that has state officials concerned, Parrish said.

“Booneville’s not a big factor but when you have Fort Smith hit 70 percent and Springdale right at 67 percent. When Springdale hits 70 percent that will be $9 million out of general revenue,” said Parrish. “Fort Smith is in their second year at 70 percent and that will be about $9 million.

If the bill were to pass the Booneville school district’s increase would be the fourth largest in terms of percentage, but the formula also shows more schools across the state would lose money than gain. That is, of course, drawing the ire of some superintendents so that “means it may not happen,” said Parrish.

“Every superintendent in the state is talking about this, and a lot of them are worried about it,” said Parrish. “Conway alone would lose $990,000 in NSLA funding if this passes.”

About 60 percent of schools in the education cooperative of which Booneville is a member, would also be losing money, Parrish said.

As of last week the bill was still before the Senate Education Committee.

In other matters last week the board heard an update on the forthcoming teacher assessment system and Parrish updated the status of other bills, including the, SB65 School Choice Act.

“What that basically says is you can go to school where you want to unless that school is under a desegregation order, and any school district can’t lose more than three percent of it’s total population in a school year,” said Parrish. “I think this is probably on the fast track to passing.

“I think choice is good, it helps us to compete and be the best that we can.”

Parrish said most superintendents oppose a bill moving school elections to November, oppose voucher bills for tax deductions for sending students to private schools, and opposes a bill allowing a loan program for charter schools.

The school funding bill would increase per student funding by 2 percent to $6,393 per student for the 2013-2014 school year and to $6,521 for the 2014-2015 school year.