Aubrey James Shepherd's unique view from Fayetteville, Arkansas
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Legislator Lindsley Smith urges homeowners to take advantage of federally funded rebates on appliance purchases NOW
LINDSLEY SMITH (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sun 6/27/10 1:36 PM
It's an unwelcome moment faced by many homeowners: the washer noisily spins
with an ominous and noisy thud, before giving out for good.
Or, in an even more startling inconvenience, you are faced with a frigid morning shower, not realizing that the old hot water heater in your basement decided to burst sometime during the night. An appliance purchase can put a dent in any wallet
- especially when it's not expected. However, there is help available, and it just got better.
You may remember that part of the federal economic-stimulus package passed last
year by Congress included a cash-rebate program for appliances that are Energy
Star certified. Energy Star appliances meet strict energy efficiency guidelines
set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, and they use anywhere from 10 to 50 percent less energy and water than standard
Nationwide, $300 million was set aside for appliance rebates. Arkansas
received $2.74 million for the program, and rebates started going out in March.
However, the response has not been as great here, or in many other states, as
expected. According to recent news accounts, across the country, less than
half of that fund has been used. In Arkansas, $783,706 remains unclaimed.
Therefore, the Arkansas Energy Office has sweetened the offer by offering
bigger refunds. Now, instead of getting a $175 refund for a new energy-efficient
clothes washer, you can receive $225. Instead of a $125 rebate for a new
refrigerator, the amount is now $275, and the rebate for a new hot water heater
has gone up to $300, from $200.
"The hope behind the increase is to get money out into the economy," said
Monica Beard-Raymond, the manager for outreach and training for the Arkansas
Energy Office. However, with less than $1 million left in the fund, rebates
will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Officials emphasize
that those interested should participate now.
"I would encourage folks that if you are sitting on the fence on whether to participate in this program that they
would do it. We're expecting these funds to go fast," said Beard-Raymond.
The increased amounts are retroactive, so if you have already qualified for a
rebate, you will automatically receive a check in the mail for the additional
amount. To find out more about the program, including how to apply, visit the
state's Web site at www.ar.state-rebate.com, or call 1-800-558-2633.
Also, for most Arkansas students now slipping into the slower routine of summer
vacation, last year's standardized testing is not likely a top concern, but the
results are in, and they're positive! Teachers, administrators, state education
officials and lawmakers were pleased this week as scores were reported for the
2010 Arkansas Augmented Benchmark Exams and the Grade 11 Literacy Exam. The
results showed significant growth.
Not only did more students score proficient and advanced for their grade
levels than last year, showing an increase in math and literacy performance,
but also, for the fourth year in a row, the achievement gaps among white, black and Hispanic students narrowed.
"When you have the achievement gap closing while scores of each student subgroup improve, you know the system is working together to produce the right results. You can't ask for a much better trend than that,"
said Tom Kimbrell, Arkansas Commissioner of Education.
Kimbrell attributed gains to the hard work of schools, teachers and communities, and he also credited the comprehensive reforms enacted by the state legislature after the Arkansas Supreme Court's 2002 mandate requiring the state to provide all
students access to an adequate and equal education.
Following the ruling, the 2003 Arkansas General Assembly passed a series of
reforms, including the Public Education Reorganization Act, which ensures
education resources are used effectively, helping make sure all students have
access to equitable facilities, teachers and curricula. Other education reform
legislation authorizes the state to require underperforming schools to
participate in school improvement plans, to help students performing below
grade level to achieve the expected standard. "The continued positive trend
in our students' benchmark exam results shows the reform is working," said Rep.
Bill Abernathy (D-Mena), Chair of the House Education Committee. "We are
pleased, but will remain diligent in improving our education system and
diminishing the achievement gap among students."
For the 2010 testing, two-thirds or more of Arkansas students scored at
proficient and advanced levels on 11of the 12 exams. The best overall scores
were on the third-grade math benchmark, with 84 percent of students scoring
proficient and advanced. The largest gain occurred on the seventh-grade math
exam, where 75 percent of scores were proficient and advanced, an increase
of seven percentage points from 2009. Results for the Grade 11 Literacy
Exam were also up, increasing from 57 percent proficient and advanced in
2009, to 60 percent in 2010. These results are combined with end-of-course
exam results (to be released later) to determine improvement status for
schools and districts under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.
The state also conducts science benchmark exams for fifth and seventh grades,
a practice begun in 2008. Scores on those tests improved by 16 percent for
fifth-graders, but remained largely unchanged for seventh-grade students.
The science scores are not included in yearly adequacy evaluations.
The overall gains are encouraging and represent progress of which we should
all be proud, but there is still much work to be done. Ensuring our children
receive an adequate education not only prepares them for their future
endeavors, but helps shape the future economic growth and development for
our entire state. We will keep working with educators and education leaders
to make sure these advances in our education system continue.