March 7, 2003
Posted at: 10:20 a.m. CST
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A number of legislators have formally taken sides in the debate over education reform -- and the divisions have fallen between urban and rural areas.
Three Democrats and 14 Republicans, mostly from areas in northwest and central Arkansas with larger school districts, joined Governor Huckabee as co-sponsors of his compromise reform bill.
Senator Jim Argue of Little Rock said yesterday he represents a wealthy district. He says he's asking his constituents to support higher taxes to giver poorer children a better education. In return, Argue says he wants education spending to be more efficient.
Huckabee's compromise failed to placate many rural legislators who backed an alternative plan by Representative Paul Weaver of rural Violet Hill. Weaver's plan, which largely avoids school consolidation, passed the House Education Committee in a 12-to-five vote yesterday. Nine of the 12 committee members who voted for Weaver's bill are Democrats from rural areas.
Weaver's plan would give all school districts until January 1 to meet academic standards currently in place or face closure. It would give districts until January first, 2006, to meet any new standards that may be adopted by the Legislature this session.
Huckabee and legislators back a compromise under which no schools would be closed solely for the sake of reorganization. Also, school boards would retain their powers, a change from Huckabee's original proposal.