The Arkansas Tech University attorney apologized to state lawmakers on Monday for the school bypassing the Department of Finance and State Administration before paying $ 1.1 million in emergency financial aid grants to students.
On another issue regarding the Russellville-based school, some lawmakers are unhappy with the race-related material given to high school students attending the Arkansas Governor’s School, which the university hosts.
[DOCUMENT: Letter from House representatives Â» arkansasonline.com/720house]
Regarding grants, Arkansas Tech wants to use federal bailout funds to repay itself for student aid, said Thomas Pennington, Arkansas technical adviser.
Pro Tempore Senate President Jimmy Hickey R-Texarkana said Arkansas Tech violated state law by failing to send the US bailout funds to the state treasury and then making pay the school out of the treasury before grants are paid out to students.
On June 18, the Legislative Council approved Arkansas Tech’s request for spending authority to use $ 1.1 million of federal funds for emergency financial aid grants this summer. In March, President Joe Biden signed the US $ 1.9 trillion bailout package to provide coronavirus relief.
At Hickey’s request, the board’s performance review and expenditure review committee on Monday refused to make a recommendation to the full board on Arkansas Tech’s request for spending permission to use 12, $ 65 million in additional US bailout funds. The committee postponed action until Friday’s board meeting.
And later Monday, at a different meeting, the board review committee declined to make recommendations to the full board on two of Arkansas Tech’s contract proposals and a proposed refurbishment of the board. Arkansas Tech, postponing action until Friday’s board meeting.
[DOCUMENT: Letter from senators â€‹Â» arkansasonline.com/720senate]
Subsequently, State Representative Fran Cavenaugh, R-Walnut Ridge, said she was proposing to delay action on two of the proposals because some lawmakers have questions about the Arkansas Governor’s School curriculum and who controls the school, held at Arkansas Tech. She said lawmakers also had questions about Arkansas Tech’s use of US bailout funds.
After the review committee meeting, State Representative Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, who offered to defer action on one of Arkansas Tech’s proposals, said, â€œI think this maybe has to do with the paper they were teaching at Governor’s School.
â€œI think it was called the privilege white paper,â€ he said.
Arkansas Tech spokesman Sam Strasner said Monday night that the document in question was titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” and was written in 1988 by Peggy McIntosh.
The document was included as optional class material for Governor’s School this summer due to its position as the topical source document regarding a contemporary issue, he said in a written statement.
Governor’s School co-directors and faculty have reviewed and responded to concerns expressed, Strasner said.
As a balancing act with McIntosh’s article, additional optional class material titled â€œThe Perils of Associating ‘White’ with ‘Privilege’ in the Classroom,â€ by Ritika Goel, was also made available to students for use. ensure that multiple viewpoints were available. for possible classroom use, he said.
“Like many other subjects at AGS and at Governor’s Schools across the country, these optional classroom materials have been made available to help students develop the ability to articulate their own views and to think about themselves. engage in civil discourse, â€Strasner wrote.
He said the approach is in line with the rules governing the site selection for the governor’s school.
The school is funded by a grant administered by the Arkansas Department of Education, Strasner said.
He said Arkansas Tech is in its third year of its first three-year term as host site for the Governor’s Summer School. On June 10, the State Board of Education approved Arkansas Tech as the host of Governor’s School from 2022 to 2024.
[DOCUMENT: Letter from Education Secretary Johnny Key â€‹Â» arkansasonline.com/720key
About 370 students are attending the school this summer, which concludes Aug. 1, he said.
Last week, 33 House Republicans and 10 Senate Republicans sent identical letters to state Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key in which they expressed concerns about the school’s curriculum and agenda this year.
They asked in their letters that the Department of Education halt “prejudiced rhetoric and teaching of radical theories immediately” and find alternate instruction.
“We believe that the teaching of racist or hateful theory through the spending of taxpayer dollars is a disservice to our students and a misuse of the public trust,” they wrote. “We cannot allow or encourage further division based on factors such as race, gender, or socioeconomic background” in a time of increased political polarity.
In a written response to Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, whose letterhead was used for the senators’ letter, Key said he was aware of the concerns expressed by the members during “the recent session” regarding the teaching of racially prejudiced or hateful theories.
He said the rules governing the school’s site selection are “very general” with respect to curriculum and programming and don’t give the department authority to develop or prepare the materials. That process is conducted by the host institution, he said.
“Without explicit authority granted by the General Assembly to oversee curriculum of Arkansas Governor’s School, I would be hesitant to demand Arkansas Tech make immediate changes in the curriculum out of concern for possible executive branch overreach,” Key wrote.
He added that the department “does not support the teachings of topics that purport to indoctrinate students in racist or hateful theories and other concepts that are subversive to the best ideals of our nation,” and that he looked forward to working with Hammer to make regulatory or statutory changes to ensure the Governor’s School provides a positive experience for students.
In response to a question from Hickey, Pennington told lawmakers the university received an American Rescue Plan grant totaling about $22 million and most institutions received those funds about May 12.
Under the federal rules, “we have to at least draw down some of that money from what they call the G5 by Aug. 10 or we lose potentially the $22 million,” he told the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee. G5 is the federal system that the state Department of Education and colleges and universities use to draw federal funding, according to the finance department.
“One of the things that I did as the principal investigator was rush and we were here last month with a $1.1 million request to use the American Rescue Plan funds to distribute as an emergency grant to students,” Pennington said.
After May 12 and prior to the council’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee meeting on June 15, the state Department of Finance and Administration had a conference call with each of the state’s colleges and universities and detailed the procedure for drawing down that money, he said.
“First we come to [the committee] and then it goes to [the Legislative Council] and then the way the process was supposed to workâ€¦ is that we would incur the expense, so having the money ready to go, transfer it to DF&A and DF&A would turn around and send it back to us, â€said Pennington.
Arkansas Tech sent the funds to the students after an application process and “then we were going to withdraw the funds from the G5,” he said.
“What should have happened is that we prepare the money to distribute to the students, then we take out of G5, send it to DF&A, DF&A send it back to us, then we give the money back to the students,” a Pennington said. , “there was therefore no embezzlement.”
But Arkansas Tech didn’t go through the finance department’s process, he said, and he apologized to the committee for it.
Hickey said the legislature passed a law requiring state agencies, colleges and universities to provide a detailed plan of how they plan to spend US bailout funds and also require the finance department to reporting to lawmakers on where the money was spent, so that “process is what was bypassed.
â€œI see this as a violation of state law,â€ he said. “This state only works if we follow them all, whether we like it or not.”
The checks were sent to the students on a Friday and then a few days later Arkansas Tech contacted the Department of Finance and State Administration and “they realized the seriousness of this error,” Pennington said.
Arkansas Tech was the first state higher education institution to attempt to withdraw funds from the US bailout and “we messed it up and I’m here to admit this mistake and I would ask the university not to not be punished for this isolated mistake, â€he said. .
“I ask for mercy from the committee in which we put the cart before the horse,” said Pennington.