July 28, 2003 - Posted at: 1:34 p.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Rural educators opposed to Governor Huckabee's plan to improve Arkansas public schools say education changes could affect the quality of life in hundreds of Arkansas small towns.
The Arkansas Rural Education Association includes 220 school districts that are most likely be targeted if the state chooses high school consolidation as one way to comply with a court order to improve education.
Rural superintendents say they could lose some of the close-knit feel of their communities if schools close and students have long bus rides and fewer opportunities to play sports.
Also at stake are many of Arkansas' 308 superintendent posts and the power that comes with them. In many cases, the school district is the town's largest employer. In 161 districts, superintendents made more than the governor's annual pay of $71,738.
Huckabee says he fears the superintendents are working against the best interests of Arkansas' 450-thousand public school children by trying to maintain small rural school districts even if they can't meet education standards. The governor says he's trying to help rural students.
The governor says the cost of maintaining the state's 308 school districts doesn't make economic sense. He says Arkansans in larger cities will pay to subsidize rural schools without seeing an increase in their own funding.
Rural educators counter that there is more at stake than money and say they are turning out good students.