Paragould Lawmaker Discusses Education Funding

August 11, 2004 - Posted at 5:30 p.m. CDT

Paragould, AR - Back in March, Arkansans started paying more for just about everything they buy in the Natural State.

A sales tax increase took effect to help fund improvements for public school education. But just how much of your money is taking shape in the classroom?

"The plan that was put into place is meeting the need, even with a small surplus," said State Senator Tim Wooldridge of Paragould.

Can that surplus last for additional educational expenditures?

Wooldridge says during the last legislative session, the focus was on providing equal funding to all schools, which he says they accomplished through consolidation and a sales tax increase. But remember, the State Supreme Court also ruled that Arkansas' education system must provide equal facilities for learning.

"In the next session of the legislature, you will hear the term facilities, over and over and over," said Wooldridge.

For now however, at a cost of 10 million dollars, teams of experts are looking through the state's facilities to assess needs and costs, and that could mean more of your money is needed to foot the bill.

"We may have to have a bond issue, so we may have to raise a smaller amount of money to service the debt for that bond issue," said Wooldridge.

Then there is the issue of a salary boost for teachers?

The head of the state's education department is calling for using some of the state's new money to give teachers a salary increase.

"There's no one down there that does not want to do those things, it's a matter of being able to do with the money that's available to us," said Wooldridge.

And so a week shy of the first day of school, the only certainty at this point is that 61 school districts in the state no longer exist.

The facilities report is due on September 30th. The next session of the legislature begins January 10th.