Lt. Gov. Mark Darr will resign as of Feb. 1, according to a statement he issued. He was fined by the Ethics Commission for violations of state ethics laws and regulations concerning campaign funds. The governor will now consider how to deal with the situation.
Gov. Mike Beebe is trying to determine if state law requires him to declare a vacancy and call a special election within 150 days after the lieutenant governor departs.
Beebe said he might ask the attorney general for an advisory opinion. In 2006, when Lt. Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller passed away, Gov. Mike Huckabee declined to call a special election. Leaders of both parties had agreed to leave the office vacant until the term expired which was only six months.
If anything were to happen to Gov. Beebe that he could not fulfill his duties after Darr leaves and before an election, the Senate pro tem would become acting governor. There is an order of succession.
A fiscal session starts Feb. 10 and it is possible that legislation could be considered that would leave the vacancy, since there is an election in 10 months. This would save the state the cost of doing a special election. But in a fiscal session, it would take 67 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate to even allow this non fiscal legislation to be brought up.
In all, 75,832 people in the state acquired health care coverage through the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program as of last week.
A $450,000 allocation from the Arkansas rainy day fund will cover most of the new cost for students taking high school equivalency exams (GED). The funding approval means the Arkansas Department of Career Education will be able to charge students who want to take the GED test $16 instead of $120, which the private testing company now charges to take it.
State education funding is based on enrollment, with local school districts receiving extra money for each pupil in attendance from a low income family. In the 2003-04 special session, the legislators established the bonus funding for poor students in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that the state was failing in providing adequate and equitable education to all students regardless of which area of the state they lived in.
In 2013, Arkansas school districts received a total of $193 million in state aid based on the number of low income students they taught. This category of aid is called National School Lunch funding, although it is separate from the federal school lunch act that pays for the meals provided to poor students for free or at a reduced price. The state uses the same eligibility criteria as the national lunch program, and school districts receive bonus funding for each student who qualifies for a free or reduced price lunch.
The higher the percentage of low income students enrolled in a school district, the greater the amount of bonus funding the state sends. In 2013 the state provided an additional $517 per pupil to districts where the number of NSL students enrolled is less than 70 percent. About 60 percent of the 238 school districts in Arkansas fall into this category. Districts whose enrollment is 70 percent to 89 percent NSL students received an additional $1,033 per pupil last year.
Of the 460,000 students enrolled in Arkansas public schools 50 percent are eligible for free lunches and another 10 percent are eligible for reduced price lunches. The Senate and House education committees are focusing on a debate about how schools should spend their NSL.
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