Were you able to attend the Pink Tomato Festival or a Juneteenth celebration last weekend? Or did you do something special for Father’s Day on Sunday? With summer in full swing, last week was a busy one. I spent time between Hot Springs and Little Rock attending legislative meetings, the Municipal League’s Annual Convention and the Arkansas Bar Association’s Annual Meeting before coming home to south Arkansas and riding in Hamburg’s Juneteenth parade and spending some time at the Pink Tomato Festival.

The week started with the House and Senate Education Committee meeting, where we began the process for funding education for the next biennium. With more than 460,000 students enrolled in our state’s public schools, and an additional 18,000 enrolled in charter schools, funding and how we plan for that funding and its ever changing needs ultimately touches every Arkansan.

There are several types of school funding in Arkansas. In general, about half of school district/charter school operating revenue comes from state sources, about 40 percent is generated locally and about 10 percent comes from the federal government. This funding totaled nearly $5.9 billion in 2017-18.

Foundation Funding primarily consists of local property tax revenues and the state aid portion of foundation funding. To determine the amount of foundation funding, Arkansas uses a specific formula, known as the matrix. The matrix calculates the per-student funding based on the cost of personnel and other resources needed to operate a prototypical school of 500 students.

Legislators involved in the biennial Adequacy Study determine the resources included in each line of the matrix and the dollar amount needed to fund it.

In the most recent legislative session, we increased the per-student funding from $6,713 to $6,899 per student for the 2019-2020 school year. It increases funding to $7,018 per student the following school year.

Our committee was also presented with information on student outcome measures. In 2016, the state began administering the ACT Aspire assessment. The 2018 ACT Aspire scores show a decrease in 4th grade students scoring ready or above in math and an increase in the 8th grade math scores.

Arkansas’s high school graduation rate has increased since 2011 to 88 percent of high school students. While the overall increase mirrors the national trend, Arkansas has consistently achieved higher FOUR-year graduation rates than the national rates.

Watch our next committee meeting online on Aug.19 at arkleg.state.ar.us .

The annual awards luncheon of the Arkansas Municipal League (AML) was held last Thursday. It is a highlight of the AML Annual Convention, where municipal officials from across the state gathered to learn about mutual challenges and the latest developments in local government. It was great to get to visit with Monticello Mayor Paige Chase and Crossett City Councilwoman Crystal Marshall at the luncheon.

The AML was active during the legislative session working on legislation to benefit our cities and towns and I was honored to receive one of this year’s Distinguished Legislator Awards.

It’s festival season in Arkansas, and the Pink Tomato Festival brought folks from all over to celebrate our local farmers. My grandson Henry and I spent time riding the train and checking out the fish in the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s traveling education tank. The AGFC has a fabulous website at www.agfc.com, with information on everything from hunting and licenses to identifying wildlife in your yard.

You probably know that many Arkansas communities celebrated Juneteenth last Saturday, but are you familiar with the history behind this celebration?

President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the United States on January 1, 1863. But for arguable reasons, news of the proclamation didn’t reach Texas until June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed at Galveston with news of the war’s end and that all slaves were now free.

The arrival of those Union troops, led by Major General Gordon Granger, also provided enough troops to actually enforce Lincoln’s Executive Order. You can read much more about the events and the celebrations at juneteenth.com.

A special thanks to Mayor Dane Weindorf and all in Hamburg that gave me such a warm welcome and a prime spot in Hamburg’s Juneteenth parade!

I also want to mention the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance fundraiser last Thursday evening at the Albert Pike Masonic Center in Little Rock. I co-chair the Arkansas Legislative Hunger Caucus and was very proud of the almost 50 legislators that helped serve tables at the 12th Annual Serving Up Solutions. Almost $150,000 was raised to help address the food insecurity needs of Arkansans.

In south Arkansas, 23 percent of people suffer from food insecurity and more than 27 percent of our children have experienced the reality of not having food to eat. These staggering numbers increase in the summer when our kids are out of school. Please take the time to thank the many community volunteers that work with local food banks to help meet these needs of our most vulnerable citizens.

It remains my great honor to serve as state representative. As you continue to enjoy your summer, please let me know how I can be of help. Leave me a message on my phone at 870-460-0773, email me at leanne.burch@arkansashouse.org, or message me on Facebook @BurchforAR. I look forward to hearing from you.

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