Leader Blues

Monday, June 04, 2007

TOP STORY >>Lawmakers happy court says state in compliance

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

With the state Supreme Court’s decision to close the Lake View school funding case and end its oversight, the last two sessions of the state General Assembly have carved out a legacy that should result in a positive impact on all public school students from here on out, according to local lawmakers.

“I think we’ve left a legacy,” said state Rep. Lenville Evans, D-Lonoke. “I hate to be the one to say it.”

Nearly everyone was on board this session with increasing funding for deficient school buildings, increasing the amount of money the state chips in to educate each student and expanding pre-kindergarten education, but Evans and state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville were among the slight majority in 2004 to raise the state tax by seven-eighths of a cent to fund school adequacy.

The state has met its constitutional obligation to provide adequate school funding, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday, apparently ending the years-old lawsuit. Justice Robert L. Brown, in his opinion said the $122 million increase in minimum foundation aid and the appropriation of $456 million to improve facilities met the constitutional standard.

“We hold that the General Assembly has now taken the required and necessary legislative steps to assure that the schoolchildren of this state are provided an adequate education and a substantially equal educational opportunity,” justices wrote in the unanimous decision.

“It’s certainly a blessing,” said Evans. “It brought some credibility back to the House.”

In the future, legislatures will just have to maintain adequacy, Evans said. “If they continue and increase at least cost of living increases in minimum foundation aid, they’ll be okay,” Evans said. “If we keep up we’ll stay out of the court.” “Since 2003, we’ve been very committed to making sure the kids in Arkansas have an opportunity for an excellent education,” Bond said. “Hopefully, we will change the face of public education in Arkansas forever.” Bond noted that Arkansas now leads the nation in availability of pre-kindergarten for all children.

“Over the next two decades, kids will be coming out more ready for college and more ready for a career,” he said. “We have to push Arkansas out of this hole, where we are 50th in the percent of residents older than 25 who have a college degree.”
“Apparently the court recognized the steps that the legislature took to assure that the school children are provided adequate education and substantially equal educational opportunities,” said state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle.

“We certainly celebrate the decision made by the court today,” Glover said Thursday, “but we don’t want to get lax as to our continued responsibility to make sure funding will be there to not allow us to be taken back into court for not doing the job we’re supposed to be doing.

“It’s always good to get out from under the thumb of the Supreme Court,” said Glover, who credited Gov. Mike Beebe’s leadership on the matter, including the allocation of more than $400 million of the state’s surplus revenue to fix dilapidated facilities and $40 million for the pre-kindergarten program.