Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

SATURDAY EDITORIAL >> Adequate school funds

Sometime before he summons the legislature into special session Gov. Huckabee should read the Arkansas Supreme Court decision that required it. A refresher civics lesson would help, too. While Huckabee will have little influence on the school legislation that emerges from the session, the extra knowledge might save the governor, or the rest of us, more embarrassment.

Huckabee continues to demand that lawmakers insert in whatever school laws they enact a blistering reprimand of the Supreme Court for holding that the 2005 school-funding laws violated the state Constitution. He wants to insert sentences telling the Supreme Court that he and the legislature have determined that their work is constitutional and that the Supreme Court should shut up and butt out.

From the day when Huckabee heard about the decision (he was out of state) until this week, his remarks demonstrate little understanding of what the Supreme Court said. He thinks the court said that it knew more about what an “adequate” education was than Huckabee and the legislature did and that the two branches must embrace its view and its budget.

One more time, class, this is what the justices said: Every time that the legislature budgets for the next two years, it is required both by the Constitution and the law that it passed in 2004 to determine what is needed to provide an adequate education for all children and then it should budget those sums.

The legislature and the governor, by their own admission, did not do that in 2005. They had determined in 2004 what was adequate and funded it — and the Supreme Court acknowledged it. But the school budget this year, unlike the budget for every other government program, did not give the schools a dime more either to cover inflationary cost increases like fuel, a pay increase or any money to cover the new financial burdens that its laws placed on the schools. Those failures provided unrebutted evidence that the school budget this year did not meet the constitutional requirement that the state must budget for an adequate school program.

Legislative leaders intend to raise the public school budget by $135 million or so over the biennium if Huckabee will call the session, and that will put the schools on the same footing with the rest of government. And the state will be on constitutional footing again as well. Huckabee seems to endorse that spending, which makes his criticism of the Supreme Court the more bizarre. The governor thinks that he and the legislature, not the courts, get to say what the Constitution means and when laws are constitutional. Ninth graders are taught the respective roles of the three branches of government.

Sen. Jim Luker of Wynne said the legislature should not include the nonsense proposed by the governor in any bill. The grandstanding would have no legal force, Luker said. And it would have no other effect except to make the lawmakers look stupid. Most of them have had enough of that. Court bashing is in vogue today in Republican politics. Last year, Republican House Leader Tom DeLay wanted to impeach judges for not intervening to keep the brain-dead Terri Schiavo on life support for many more years.

At least Huckabee is not advocating that someone poison the justices as Republican pundit Ann Coulter suggested at Little Rock last month that someone do to Justice John Paul Stevens of the U. S. Supreme Court, or have them slain some other way, as a Republican blog was suggesting for the two women U.S. Supreme Court justices who wrote that it was all right for the court to consider international law in its deliberations. Thank goodness our governor has a heart even if his judgment is lacking.

Ernie Dumas writes editorials for The Leader.