Education Committees advance adequacy contract study – again

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 404 views 

The House and Senate Education Committees voted Monday (Dec. 16) to hire a consulting firm to conduct an adequacy study of the state’s education system, and now the decision rests in the hands of the Arkansas Legislative Council – again.

The Senate committee voted 6-1 to hire Augenblick, Palaich and Associates on a $659,580 contract to conduct the study, while the House committee supported the motion, 12-3.

The proposal now moves to the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC), the Legislature’s policymaking body that meets between legislative sessions.

This is the second time the Education Committees voted to advance the contract with Augenblick. It voted last month to hire the firm, but the ALC’s Policy-Making Subcommittee voted to also hire Shuls and Associates. The full Arkansas Legislative Council then voted against hiring both consultants.

The contract, which specifically asks consultants not to provide a dollar amount for its recommendations, returns to the ALC Policy-Making Subcommittee for a vote Wednesday. The full Council meets Friday.

Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, the House Education Committee chairman and an adequacy study supporter, said he was confident the ALC will approve the contract this time. If it fails, he said the current effort to push an adequacy study would be done “for my part.”

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday (Dec. 13), that he supports having an adequacy study, saying, “As long as it has the right parameters, I think it would be helpful.” He said he was communicating his views to legislators “as needed.”

Cozart said Hutchinson had not expressed his views to him personally about the issue.

This would be the state’s first education adequacy study since those produced by another consultant, Picus Oden & Associates, in 2003 and 2006 helped create the current school funding formula.

Those studies were conducted in response to the Lake View School District court case where the state Supreme Court ruled the Arkansas Constitution makes the state responsible for providing all students an “adequate” and “equitable” education.

The vote came after Rep. Rick Beck, R-Center Ridge, presented data showing mixed results in National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores following contracts signed with Augenblick.

Washington, D.C. averaged yearly gains compared to scores before signing the contract, with the national average set as a baseline, in fourth grade reading, eighth grade reading and eighth grade math. However, its fourth grade math scores showed less improvement compared to the national average after contracting with Augenblick then they did before.

In Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, test scores improved at slower rates than the national average on all four tests, other than Maryland’s eighth grade reading scores, after those states contracted with Augenblick.

Beck’s analysis showed Arkansas’ scores also dipped compared to the national average following its 2003 adequacy study by Picus, Oden & Associates.

Beck said he had the data compiled because Augenblick hadn’t provided it to the Legislature. He said Maryland and New Jersey had fully adopted the consultant’s proposals, while Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania had partially adopted them.

Several legislators took issue with Beck’s analysis. A common theme of their criticisms was that they didn’t measure how well states had implemented Augenblick’s recommendations. Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, compared it to a patient who doesn’t follow a doctor’s advice and dies afterwards.

Beck said the analysis covered a broad data set and said it showed that consultants don’t have the “secret sauce” for fixing education. Still, he later voted for awarding the contract to Augenblick. He later told Talk Business & Politics that he wanted to put the issue “to rest.”