• Arkansas House Reviews Highway Funding Shortfall

    It is estimated that Americans use the highway system to make 90% of all trips. And close to 70% of all our nation’s goods are transported by trucks on our highways.

    Making sure our infrastructure can support our growing needs is a costly endeavor. Currently, the majority of highway funding in Arkansas is supported by taxes on fuel. Fuel consumption continues to decline due to more efficient vehicles. Severance tax on natural gas exploration and fees for driver’s licenses also support our roadways.

    You will likely be hearing more about the current shortfall in highway funding over the next several weeks. The Governor has stated publicly that he intends to call an Extraordinary Session to address highway funding as well as healthcare reform. House and Senate leadership have both indicated they would like to see these issues addressed in separate sessions. We will have a clearer indication on the timing of the potential sessions as we approach our Fiscal Session set for April 13.

    In the meantime, we encourage Arkansans to review the findings by a working group created by the Governor last summer. The Governor’s Working Group on Highway Funding is composed of members of the Arkansas House and Senate transportation committees, designees from integral state agencies and commissions, and individuals that have knowledge of the transportation and finance industries. This group of stakeholders first met in June 2015 and began meeting monthly in August 2015 to begin developing strategies to increase highway funding in the state.

    In their final report the group recommended a variety of options to increase revenue. These recommendations include everything from raising fuel taxes to redirecting existing general revenue to highways.

    The report states that $110 million is needed in the next three years to address the Highway and Transportation Department’s most critical needs. The report also states the department will need an additional $150 million in six to nine years to address localized traffic congestion and reduce the number of weight restricted bridges and highways.

    The House live-streamed the meetings of the working group. If you are interested to see how they came to their findings you can watch the meetings by visiting the Video Library at www.arkansashouse.org.

  • Task Force Focuses on Special Education

    Children with special needs have gifts and talents.  Our challenge in education is to ensure these students have the tools to unleash these talents and reach their full potential. Close to 12% of all Arkansas students are enrolled in special education classes.

    Students eligible for special education include those with autism, hearing or visual impairments, emotional disturbances, or any learning disability.

    During the 2015 Regular Session, the General Assembly passed Act1485 creating the Legislative Task Force on the Best Practices for Special Education.  Since August of last year, the 21 member task force has been reviewing practices for identifying students for special education, comparing outcomes with other states, and reviewing support staff services including nurses and teachers aids.

    This week, the task force met to review its findings so far and begin to prepare a final report.

    One issue brought to their attention is the inadequate supply of appropriately licensed special education teachers who want to teach in the field.  A district that cannot find an appropriately licensed teacher must apply to the Department of Education for a waiver.  Currently, 138 districts and charter schools have requested such waivers.

    They have also learned that students with disabilities who are placed in the regular classroom for at least 80% of the school day have higher levels of proficiency than all students with disabilities collectively.

    Discipline is another important area of study for the task force.  There is a significant gap in statewide literacy assessments for students with disabilities who were removed from the classroom for disciplinary measures. The numbers show that 10% of the special education population were either suspended or expelled from school during the 2014-2015 school year.

    All of this information and more will be released in a final report in September.  This will give all members time to review the findings and propose legislation for the 2017 Regular Session.

    Education is the state’s number one fiscal priority.  We want to ensure every child, regardless of their needs, has the resources available in our schools to achieve success.  We will update you on our progress in this area in the months ahead.