Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

EDITORIAL >> Thousands for rodeos, but none for schools

The week could have gone much better for the state’s lawyers, who are trying to demonstrate that the legislature and the governor met their constitutional obligations to Arkansas’s 450,000 public school children this spring.

First, the schools’ lawyers got hold of emails from the loose-talking deputy attorney general, who ridiculed the justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court who are demanding that the legislature do what the Constitution has said for 130 years that they must do: provide a suitable and equal education for all children.
The deputy, who is directing the defense of the legislature’s and Gov. Huckabee’s anemic response to the court’s order, suggested that the state might want to amend the Constitution and remove every shred of defense of school children.

That would show the court. Attorney General Mike Beebe and lawmakers had to try to explain away the young man’s impolitic remarks.

And then there was the evidence presented to the two masters who were appointed by the Supreme Court to gather evidence on what had been done to see that children got the education promised them in the state’s basic law. It has so far been overwhelmingly against the state. Neither the state’s attorneys nor Education Department officials have had even a weak justification for the legislature’s freezing per-pupil aid this year when school costs, including energy, are skyrocketing and state revenues and surpluses are ballooning.

As for school facilities, the other half of the state’s monumental failing, the state’s best explanation for appropriating only a tiny fraction of the institutional needs that were verified by lawmakers and the governor themselves was that providing more money might create more work than private contractors could handle. And money was tight, they said.

But Sam Jones, the attorney for the Pulaski County Special School District, uncharitably asked why the legislature could not find $374,000 for desperately needed safety work on the Charleston schools but handily wrote a check for $110,000 for a private rodeo in the Franklin County town.

The rodeo grant was part of the legislative grab bag called the General Improvement Fund. The schools’ lawyers summoned other ridiculous appropriations from that long list until the state's attorneys pleaded for it to stop. The masters then allowed the school attorneys their three ‘favorites’ — the most hilarious illustrations of taxpayer-financed pork - and then ordered the lawyers to move on.

Judicial decorum can tolerate only a certain amount of hilarity, or tears.