January 13, 2003
Posted at: 10:35 a.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Governor Huckabee plans to announce a groundbreaking education restructuring plan next week as legislators prepare to start a session that will focus on the issue.
Earlier this week, Governor Huckabee said in a speech to school administrators that the court-mandate means a fundamental shift in authority over public education from local districts to the state.
The Arkansas Supreme Court gave the Legislature a deadline of next January First to fix an education funding system that it found as inadequate and unconstitutional. Experts estimate that could cost the state up to $1 billion a year. That's a huge cost for an economically distressed state where education already accounts for roughly one-half of the annual budget.
Legislators are discussing possibly consolidating schools, increasing taxes and cutting budgets to make up the money.
However first many legislators want to see results of a Supreme Court ordered study measuring the adequacy of education before backing a specific funding plan. Education leaders have said the study will take about six months, which means a special legislative session may be necessary to resolve the education dilemma.
Incoming House Speaker Herschel Cleveland said that completing the study will be one of the first orders of business in the House.
The governor has indicated that his proposed restructuring could include consolidation, a controversial issue in many areas of the state.
Cleveland is against consolidation, saying it would hard for a lot of students because of the travel. Huckabee also has proposed a five-eights-cent state sales tax increase that would distribute $474 million over two years.
But opponents say raising the sales tax isn't the answer to Arkansas deep-rooted education woes. Some legislators say they don't sense any support for a tax increase.