Huckabee Ed Plan Takes Form, Ready for Senate

February 3, 2003
Posted at: 3:25 p.m. CDT
Updated at: 5:00 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A draft of legislation to implement the governor's education plan is circulating at the state Capitol in Little Rock.

Senator Jim Argue, a Little Rock Democrat, is carrying the bill for the administration. There is no House sponsor yet.

The 103-page measure being circulated today puts in writing the ideas Governor Huckabee has discussed for weeks. It calls for reducing the number of school districts to no more than 116.

Districts with at least 1,500 students would remain intact, and communities would keep their elementary schools. But many high schools would be consolidated into larger districts. Rural legislators representing small school districts opposed to consolidation don't favor the governor's plan.

Under the Huckabee proposal, districts with less than 1,500 students would consolidate into "regional school districts." A large fear from small, rural towns is the loss of the high school under a regional district. The draft legislation allows that local high schools would remain open in a regional district setting if the school could meet minimum curriculum, facility, and accredidation standards, and prove to the State Board of Education that it can operate in an efficient manner.

According to state education director Ray Simon, 66% of high school in Arkansas now fall below minimum curriculum standards.

The state Supreme Court declared the state's school funding formula unconstitutional in November. It gave the Legislature until next January to develop a plan to provide all children an equal and adequate education. Some legislators also are working on alternatives to the governor's plan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.