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Legislative panel: Majority of schools spending low-income money elsewhere

Tom Kimbrell is the State Education Commissioner for Arkansas
Tom Kimbrell is the State Education Commissioner for Arkansas
Arkansas Dept. Education/Tom Kimbrell

Every Arkansas school district receives money from the state based on how many students enroll in the free or reduced lunch program. The money each district receives through National School Lunch (NSL) funds is supposed to be allocated to helping low-income and at-risk students achieve academic success. Although the program is named for the school lunch program—it is not tied to it. However, the criteria for administering the funds use the same criteria as the school lunch program. A Legislative panel completed a study on how schools were allocating these funds. The Arkansas News Network reported on Jan. 7, 2014 that the panel presented their results on Tuesday.

In 2013, Arkansas school districts received a total of $192 million in NSL funds. According to the panel’s report, less than 11 percent of the funds in any given school district went directly to improving student achievement for low-income and at-risk students. The majority of the money was used for teacher salaries and curriculum. Tom Kimbrell, State Education Commissioner, testified that it is allowable for districts to spend NSL funds on teacher salaries and other items. Kimbrell elaborated that the current law is very liberal in the way districts can spend NSL funds and that the districts were in compliance with the current law. He feels that if the Legislature wants to see specific uses for the funds, they will have to change the law.

The panel’s report states that the total of NSL funding spent on student support services was 10.5 percent. This number is further broken down with 8.1 percent on counselors, 2 percent on tutoring, and .4 percent on parent education. The remaining money was spent on other services, most of which benefited the entire student population.

Arkansas Advocates for Children feels that this money should go toward the population it is supposed to help and that other money should be used to benefit the student population as a whole.

Lynda Altman is very concerned about the state of the public schools in Arkansas and the United States. She writes a blog called Homeschooling When Mom has Cancer. Get notices when this page is updated by clicking on the subscribe link, by email, or contact Lynda @fusgeyer on Twitter.