House committee approves higher ed funding change

An Arkansas House committee has approved Governor Hutchinson's plan to alter the funding formula for higher education. The House Education Committee advanced a bill by Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) on Tuesday that would send state dollars to public colleges and universities based on performance. The state now awards colleges and universities money mostly based on enrollment.

The bill would not establish a new funding model. Rather, it would require the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board to authorize a model developed by the state Department of Education following principles set forth in the legislation.

The model would include metrics such as affordability and how long it takes students to complete their degrees, Maria Markham, director of the state Higher Education Department, told legislators. It would also take into consideration to what degree schools enroll underserved populations, as defined by race, income or academic status, Markham said.

“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 attend their schools,” she said.

“I'd like to know, is not this a model really for making the weak weaker, and the strong stronger, rather than addressing the needs of the children?” Rep. John W. Walker (D-Little Rock) asked. "I'm concerned because we're making these judgments … without any real evidence that it will change anything or it will help people who need education the most.”

Lowery cited the success of similar models in Indiana and Tennessee.

The measure passed on a voice vote. It now heads to the full House.

The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network is an independent, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans. Our work is re-published by partner newsrooms across the state.