LITTLE ROCK — A House committee on Tuesday advanced a bill that would call for a revamp of Arkansas’ higher education funding formula.
In a voice vote that was not unanimous, the House Education Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to House Bill 1209 by Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle. The bill would direct the state Higher Education Coordinating Board to adopt a funding model for colleges and universities that would distribute money based on “productivity” rather than enrollment levels.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last year he wants the state to adopt an outcomes-based funding formula for state colleges and universities. He has said that if the Legislature approves the revamp, he will seek a $10 million funding boost for higher education for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Under a 2011 state law, 10 percent of funding to colleges and universities is based on achievement of certain outcomes, a percentage that originally was supposed to increase each year but was frozen by the Legislature in 2013 because of flat funding for higher education. Enrollment numbers are the primary basis for distributing funds under the current system.
HB 1209 lists goals the proposed new formula would reward schools for achieving, including:
• Completion of students’ educational goals.
• Progress toward students’ completion of programs of study.
• Institutional collaboration to ease student transfers.
• Success in serving under-represented students.
• Success in turning out graduates in science, technology, engineering, math and other high-demand fields.
Other states that have adopted funding models with similar goals have seen improvement in schools’ achievement of those goals, state Department of Higher Education Director Maria Markham told the committee.
The formula itself is not contained in the bill. Lowery and Markham told the panel that if the bill becomes law, the state Department of Higher Education will flesh out the details of the formula and present the plan to the Higher Education Coordinating Board, which will vote on adopting it.
The Administrative Rules and Regulations Subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council would have to sign off on the formula before it could be implemented, Lowery and Markham said.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, questioned whether the proposed new formula would create “winners” and “losers” among schools, with the losers likely to be schools in the least affluent parts of the state.
“Is not this a model, really, for making the weak weaker and the strong stronger rather than addressing the needs of the children where you are?” Walker asked.
Markham answered that a weighting system would award more points for serving students with high levels of need than students who are easier to educate.
“We have been very purposeful about creating a weighting system that did not disincentivize institutions, either two-year or four-year, from effectively serving those populations that reside and typically attend their schools,” she said.
Annie Bryant, who said she is a parent and grandparent in the Dollarway School District in Pine Bluff, spoke against the bill.
Bryant, who is black, said the measure would “lead to a segregation and a grouping of people who look like me, who live in communities like my community, into certain universities in certain areas who may not have the same amount of resources as others.”
Lowery said the proposed new formula would be “a significant step forward for the students in the state of Arkansas.”
The bill goes to the House.