Huckabee Touts Education Plan in Region 8

July 23, 2003 - Posted at: 4:11 p.m. CDT

FORREST CITY, Ark. -- Governor Huckabee made his first trip to Region 8 on his summer barnstorming tour detailing his plans to fix the state's unconstitutional educational funding system.

Speaking at East Arkansas Community College in Forrest City, Huckabee said he was there to clear up any misconceptions of his education reform plan, which calls for district consolidation based on population numbers and is opposed by many rural lawmakers and educators.

"One of the things I wanted to do is come and meet with folks face to face," said Huckabee.

According to Huckabee, there are two real options facing the state as it works to comply with a State Supreme Court ruling. On November 21, 2002, the court upheld a Pulaski County Chancery Court ruling in Lake View v. Huckabee, saying that the state's educational funding system was "inequitable, inadequate, and unconstitutional."

"There are two real options," Huckabee said. "Tax increases, or a form of consolidation.

Without any consolidation, Huckabee said, the only remaining choices are "to raise taxes, or lower the choices for everyone to have equal standards. Taxes will be raised substantially, if that is the road (his opponents) wish to follow."

"I wasn't coming up with a plan to make people mad and get a standing ovation," Huckabee said. "They'll just remember me as the plaintiff (in the Lake View case). I have to follow the court's order."

Huckabee said that he was not in favor of any tax increases, despite experts and lawmaker claims that it could cost almost $1 billion to fund the current school system.

Huckabee's plan is based on a student population of 1,500 students K-12. Districts that have less than that number, under his plan, would face consolidation with another district, even if state education minimums were met.

When given the situation of one Craighead County district, Brookland, with a population of around 1,100; and adequately meeting education standards, Huckabee said that Brookland would not lose their school.

"If they do well, and doing well means they offer a broad curriculum for their students, and their kids can pass the test well, and they can do it on the amount of money that is reasonable...nothing would happen to Brookland, they would just stay like they are."

Huckabee said that the 1,500-threshold is an arbitrary number, and even the range of 1,100-1,500 is arbitrary. Huckabee said that studies have shown that districts with a population of at least 1,500 are getting the correct funding levels to work efficiently toward maintaining standards.

Also as part of his address, Huckabee reiterated that he is in favor of a special session of the General Assembly to address the crisis only if one "could do good, and not cause harm."