- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Senate Education Committee has approved a report recommending how to spend more than $3 billion on public schools.

Legislators voted Tuesday, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/2e1ZIZj ). The recommendation calls for public school funding to be raised by $45.6 million in each of the next two fiscal years. The 2018 fiscal year starts July 1.

It also includes a provision for schools to increase minimum teacher salaries by $400 in each of those fiscal years, to $31,800. A roughly $4 million funding increase by fiscal 2019 was reserved for the special education “catastrophic fund,” which reimburses schools for educating students that have severe disabilities.

The House Education Committee is also required by law to approve a report but hasn’t done so yet. That committee is scheduled to meet Nov. 21 and will have the option to confirm the Senate’s vote.

The Senate Education Committee members met with Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang at his request.

“I think what we saw (Monday) was really just a lack of communication among members,” said Dismang. “There really wasn’t that much disagreement, I don’t think, to begin with.”

House Education Committee Chairman Bruce Cozart said that while senators recommended funding increases intended for teacher salaries, school districts are not obligated to use that money for that recommendation. He said districts will take the more than $6,700 per student recommended for fiscal 2018 and spend it where they see appropriate.

“I think sometimes folks do not understand that we don’t set local school districts’ salary schedule,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Jane English said. “It’s the local school district. It’s something that I think needs to be telegraphed more by the association folks.”

English asked executive director of the Arkansas School Boards Association Tony Prothro to tell school districts to spend the additional state funding on teacher salaries.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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