Wed, Sep 6, 2023 3:09 PM
By Merrilee Gasser, The Center Square
The Arkansas Joint Education Committee took the first step Wednesday in evaluating the state's Education Service Cooperatives, which receive about $172 million a year.
About $64.5 million of the funding comes from state and local unrestricted revenue sources and $40.8 million from restricted revenue from state sources, according to a report from the Bureau of Legislative Research. The ESCs provide services to students in the state's public schools.
Act 802, passed this year under House Bill 1192, called for the cooperatives to collect data to demonstrate outcomes.
“Initially, our purpose was that we thought it was necessary to restructure the boards of the co-ops, the existing co-ops, there’s 15 of them currently,” said Rep. Jon Eubanks, the lead sponsor of the bill. “We couldn’t ever get a consensus from the committee on how to go forward with that and so changed up the bill some, and basically it ended up that it required, I think the most important thing, was that the co-ops would collect data to be able to substantiate the effectiveness of the programs that they are sharing with the school districts.”
Dr. Missy Walley, director of special projects for the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education at the Arkansas Department of Education, said multiple schools reported improved math and reading scores.
Quitman School District reported that their high school students who can read at grade level increased from 30% to 51% since 2018, and Marked Tree School District said their tenth-grade students improved their reading by 23% and seventh-grade students by 10%, according to Walley.
The superintendent for Marked Tree School District also reported that their high school teacher retention was the best in 20 years, Walley said.
Other schools that reported improvements from working with the cooperatives included Howard Elementary in Fort Smith, whose third-grade reading scores rose by over 25%, and Glenview Elementary in North Little Rock, where 50% of their students moved out of being listed as needing support, said Walley.
West Side School District reported that fourth-grade students grew in math by more than 42%.
“Can I say these schools are still struggling? Yeah, they’re still struggling but they’re making some movement out of their needs of support. It is a process and it is a journey that you have to commit to and hard work,” Walley said.
A full slate of directors from the state’s ESCs will present more information to the Education Committee in November.