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Legislators approve $72 million in relief funds for Arkansas school districts

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Legislators approve $72 million in relief funds for Arkansas school districts

Sep 22, 2022 | 3:22 pm ET
By Antoinette Grajeda
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An Arkansas Legislative Council subcommittee approved the disbursal of $72.4 million in federal recovery funds to seven school districts Thursday. This was the sixth round of plans reviewed by lawmakers.

The council adopted recommendations in July that schools use American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money to provide retention and recruitment bonuses to teachers and staff. The Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review subcommittee began reviewing districts’ plans for using the ESSER funds in August.

The subcommittee has authorized more than $673 million for 192 of the state’s 261 school districts so far. Seventeen districts have yet to submit a plan for review.

Legislators approve $72 million in relief funds for Arkansas school districts
Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe)

Of the seven districts whose plans were reviewed at Thursday’s meeting, two revised their plans to meet the recommendations. Five did not revise their plans and submitted justifications for their decisions.

School districts are not required to provide bonuses because it is a recommendation by the legislative council, but they do have to provide justifications for why they’re not doing so.

During its July 21 meeting, ALC rescinded $500 million in spending authority it had given the Arkansas Department of Education in June. Lawmakers then recommended that districts award bonuses of $2,500 to full-time classified staff and $5,000 to teachers. They also recommended part-time classified staff receive amounts that are half those awarded to their full-time counterparts.

Approximately $42.5 million of the $500 million had already been spent, so the council appropriated that funding back to the education department.

The focus of ESSER funds is to help schools safely provide in-person instruction, operate safely and address the academic, social, emotional and mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, according to the education department.

The council’s recommendation to provide bonuses to teachers and staff came after the state’s record $1.6 billion surplus prompted calls to use the funds to increase educators’ salaries.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson did not include teacher raises in the agenda for August’s special session because it did not have enough support among Republican legislators, who said they’d rather address the issue during the regular session that begins in January.

The subcommittee will meet again next week, but a date has not yet been set, said chair Sen. Jonathan Dismang R-Beebe.