Arkansas lawmakers approve 90-day funding rules for two tutoring programs

Franklin Merida, an eighth-grade football player from Oakdale Middle School in Rogers, reads to Alexander Camacho Cruz, a kindergarten student at Grace Hill Elementary School, in this Oct. 13, 2023 file photo. The reading was part of a program to help promote literary skills in Rogers schools. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
Franklin Merida, an eighth-grade football player from Oakdale Middle School in Rogers, reads to Alexander Camacho Cruz, a kindergarten student at Grace Hill Elementary School, in this Oct. 13, 2023 file photo. The reading was part of a program to help promote literary skills in Rogers schools. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)


State lawmakers approved emergency rules Thursday for two tutoring programs established under the Arkansas LEARNS Act.

The rules governing literacy and high-impact tutoring grants will take effect after the Arkansas Legislative Council meets Friday. The regulations the Arkansas Legislative Council subcommittee approved Thursday are emergency rules that will expire 90 days after they take effect.

The emergency rules will allow the Arkansas Department of Education to begin to administer the grants while state education officials work on permanent rules, which require a slower and more methodical process.

The rules will allow the Department of Education to offer $500 grants for literacy tutoring, to assist kindergarten to third-grade students with reading, and to provide high-impact tutoring for under-performing students at all grade levels.

The Department of Education has set aside $8 million for literacy tutoring and $20 million for the high-impact tutoring programs, a spokeswoman for the department said.

The High Impact Tutoring Pilot Program is for public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools and can be spent on a wide range of services, including hiring tutors and administrative expenses, or to develop instruction materials.

Tutoring under the program will take place during the school day for a minimum of three times a week, according to Andres Rhodes, chief legal counsel for the Department of Education. Rhodes said he will present the permanent rules to the state Board of Education at its meeting in February.

State Rep. Brian Evans, R-Cabot, chair of the House Education committee, said the $500 grant would give students 10 to 25 tutoring sessions. Students could choose tutors from a pre-approved list of tutors vetted by the Department of Education.

To oversee the grants, the subcommittee also voted to draft language for a special report "to show the effectiveness" of the tutoring program. Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, co-chair of the Legislative Council, proposed the study so legislators could have oversight on how the tutoring dollars are spent.

The LEARNS Act is Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' expansive education overhaul that includes a universal voucher program, increased starting pay for teachers and higher literacy standards.

To boost the state's low reading scores, the LEARNS Act calls for increasing the state's literacy standards for elementary students, hiring 120 literacy coaches and creating a grant program for families to seek additional help.