Leader Blues

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

TOP STORY >>State has not done enough, attorney says

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The state hasn’t done all it should to assure adequate funding of public schools and hasn’t even petitioned to be released from oversight by the state Supreme Court, according to Sam Jones, attorney for the Pulaski County Special School District.
PCSSD and the Little Rock district are two of the four districts that successfully petitioned the state Supreme Court to leave open for now the Lake View school funding adequacy case until the General Assembly adjourns in May or June, according to Jones.

PCSSD has been an intervener in the school-adequacy issue since the mid 1990s. “The Arkansas Supreme Court has never declared school funding to be constitutional,” said Jones Tuesday. “The people of Arkansas are owed an analysis declaring, ‘Yes it’s finally constitutional,” he said. Because the court can’t get to that point itself, the districts have asked the court to defer the mandate to end the case until shortly after the end of the session that starts in January.

Jones called the state’s current $850 million surplus “fortuitous,” but not the motivation for the motion to keep the case open. He said he hoped the General Assembly would take further actions to ensure funding adequacy. “The state has done a good job in the last six to eight months of analyzing and compiling information,” said Jones, but there’s still work to be done, legislation to be passed and moneys to be attained.

“We’re still concerned about how we end up on facility funding, with so many millions of dollars needed,” the attorney said.
He said some district don’t have the resources to come up with their matching share of facilities improvement money, and work still needs to be done to ensure adequate funding for English language learners—mostly Hispanics.

The state formulae assumes for purposes of minimum foundation aid that districts are able to collect the full 98 percent of revenues, although in some districts, the percentage is closer to 90. Also to be resolved is whether or not districts may use federal school lunch money for teacher salaries.