State Capitol Week in Review
LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas school districts applied for state aid in paying for 381 capital projects over the next two years, and 263 of them were approved.
The Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation Commission distributed more than $212 million to Arkansas schools for projects such as new roofs, heating and air conditioning systems, building renovations and additions.
Schools will match the state aid with revenue from local sources, with more prosperous school districts matching at a higher rate than poorer schools.
The legislature created an Educational Facilities Committee in 2003 in response to a state Supreme Court ruling in 2002 that public schools were inadequately and inequitably funded. The ruling came in the Lake View school funding case.
Since then, the legislature has been closely involved not only in distributing state funding for operations and maintenance of schools, but also in distributing “one time” money for capital projects. The goal is to ensure that all children in Arkansas have equal opportunities to get a good education, whether they live in poor or prosperous areas.
Before the ruling in the Lake View case, Arkansas school districts relied predominately on local property taxes to pay for facilities and equipment. Even when local voters approved higher taxes, schools in poor areas were unable to build the same quality of facilities as those in prosperous areas.
When the legislature created the Facilities Committee in 2003 to begin the work of making educational facilities more nearly equal throughout the state, one of the first steps was to inventory the existing conditions of public schools across Arkansas.
The inventory required sending teams to assess 1,205 schools that were operating in 5,766 permanent buildings and taking up more than 85 million square feet of indoor space.
One finding was that a little more than 40 percent of the school buildings in Arkansas were built before 1970.
Since 2003, when the legislature approved the first round of appropriations for facilities funding, state aid has been a valuable source of money for school construction and maintenance.
National Prescription Take Back Initiative
Arkansas law enforcement agencies collected more than nine tons of expired prescription drugs in a national effort to safely eliminate unwanted and unused drugs. The program was called the National Prescription Take Back Initiative and 122 Arkansas law enforcement agencies took part.
The state Crime Lab estimated that more than 26.1 million pills were collected. In the six Take Back initiatives in which Arkansas has taken part, more than 33 tons of expired medications have been collected. This year was the most successful Take Back event for Arkansas authorities.
Unused drugs in the house are liable to be abused and increase the danger of accidental overdoses and poisonings. It is not a good idea to flush them because many prescriptions drugs don’t break down and create a health risk in public waterways.
The unused prescription drugs that were collected in Arkansas were transported by the National Guard and the Drug Enforcement Administration to an incinerator in Tulsa, where they were destroyed.