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Report from the Legislature – #37

August 27th, 2012 by

Greetings! The first two weeks in August brought some very stress-filled debates to the legislature. In spite of several other noteworthy issues under study, it is highly evident that the two most important issues now, and in 2013, are health care and education. However, I am reminded that this is, and rightly should be, an annual trend. What issues are more important than our health and our children? The real problem lies in how to best serve both.

The House and Senate Committees on Education have been meeting, as required by law in Act 57 (2003) and Act 1204 (2007), to examine an adequacy study conducted each biennium by the Bureau of Legislative Research to assess funding and needs related to providing an adequate education for all Arkansas K-12 students. This refers to what is known as the “funding formula” that is used to determine the per-pupil level of foundation funding disbursed to each school district. This study was mandated by the Lakeview lawsuit to try to insure all children get equal educational opportunities.

After lengthy discussion and debate, it was concluded that achievement among all student groups was not the same. Part of the cause has been that programs are not all uniformly administered across the state. Many districts have been using excellent programs; others are not so successful. Reasons for these discrepancies may include the level of leadership and expectations of school officials and their placing of some funds in “reserves” rather than using them. These items will likely be addressed in some fashion in the 2013 session.

Teacher Professional Development was also addressed at great length in the study. Currently teachers in Arkansas are required to obtain 60 hours per year in Professional Development classes that encompass a wide variety of teaching skills. It was concluded that the best results for Professional Development are obtained when it is focused on specific content knowledge and effective teaching skills for students for diverse needs and abilities. PD should also be designed to engage teachers in active learning through modeling, practice teaching, observational feedback and consultations with academic coaches, highly qualified peers and outside experts when needed.

I have five research booklets on adequacy, funding formulas, professional development, teacher evaluations and like educational matters to study and will keep you posted.

I again attended more lengthy meetings on Medicaid funding in my role as a member of the Public Health Committee. While these were designated as “discussions”, they began with an overview of Medicaid programs in Arkansas today and quickly became more debate than discussion with the same faces asking the same questions and making the same conclusions as in countless other meetings.

However, our trio of Arkansas medical “experts” came armed with their printed answers to some of these reoccurring questions; such as, what are the consequences if we do not extend Medicaid in Arkansas, what efforts would be made to address fraud, who would be covered, what will it cost the state and what is the impact on our economy?

The highlight of these “discussions” may have been the presentations by the two new “faces” to the fray. First, Dr. Dan Rahn, Chancellor of UAMS, eloquently told of the problems expected with the new Medicaid/Medicare cuts slated to begin in January and the rapidly expanding “uncompensated debt” problems already plaguing UAMS. He says most of this indebtedness comes from emergency room usage by people with no medical coverage that need help that cannot be denied in ERs. He advocates adding more qualified Arkansans to Medicaid so they can afford to seek help and ease the debt burdens at UAMS. He stressed UAMS’ dire need for this uncompensated debt relief.

Next Bo Ryall, president and CEO of the Arkansas Hospital Association, affirmed that the state’s smaller hospitals have the same problem with uncompensated debts. (Our local hospitals experience this financial loss and burden too.) Mr. Ryall also reported that the Arkansas Hospital Association endorses the concept that having more insured individuals would ease the debt burdens our hospitals are facing annually. This debt has led, and continues to lead, smaller hospitals into precarious situations.

From a humanitarian standpoint we all deserve good health care. Both the Arkansas Medical Society and the Arkansas Hospital Association have recently announced their support of the Medicaid expansion program. As legislators, and Arkansans, we are left to think for ourselves and to consider the advice of our medical professionals in the field on these important health issues.

Reports on the Tobacco Settlement funds were also presented, but I’ll save them for my next report to you.

Thank you for the honor of representing you fulltime by listening with an open mind and engaging in these important discussions for all Arkansans. Recently I read this statement; “Nothing is more important than health. Health is the foundation of our nation’s prosperity”. As we mature, I think we can all agree with the thought that nothing in this world is more important than good health. Without it what do we have and what can we enjoy?

Thank you from the Arkansas legislature.

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