Governor's Reform Tour Lands in Jonesboro

Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to Jonesboro educators and leaders at the Rotary Club. (KAIT/D. Westerhold)
Governor Mike Huckabee speaks to Jonesboro educators and leaders at the Rotary Club. (KAIT/D. Westerhold)

July 29, 2003 - Posted at: 4:48 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Governor Mike Huckabee made a second trip to Region 8 in as many weeks as part of his barnstorming tour touting his education reform plan.

The trip followed a morning meeting in Little Rock with House Majority Leader Harmon Seawel, D-Pocahontas, designed to come to terms on a consensus between both men and their competing plans to fix the state's unconstitutional education funding system.

On November 21, 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld a Pulaski County Chancery Court ruling that the state's funding system for its 450,000 public school system was "inequitable, inadequate, and unconstitutional." The state faces a year-end deadline to find a solution to the funding crisis.

Huckabee and Seawel met for 40 minutes, but no progress seemed to be made.

Huckabee was greeted with a warm reception from the Jonesboro Rotary Club on Tuesday. The meeting was attended by local leaders, educators and members of the state legislature. Huckabee, like in his previous trip to Forrest City, again stated that he personally didn't choose to turn the state's educational system upside down.

"I just happened to be the poor dumb sap who happened to be governor when this case was finally settled," Huckabee said. "Even though it started three governors ago."

During his address to the crowd, Huckabee justified the need for his education reform plan, saying that the state is doing it wrong.

"We spend $44 million a year in remediation high school students at the college level that didn't get it the first time," Huckabee explained. "That's $44 million of doing it over, rather than investing it and doing it right."

Huckabee then commented on his morning meeting with Seawel. Seawel has been a strong opponent of Huckabee's plan, which allows for consolidation based upon school enrollment figures. Seawel, a former rural school superintendent himself, has countered with a plan that would consolidate districts based upon the meeting of state academic standards.

Despite differences, Huckabee said that there is agreement between both sides.

"We did not build a campfire," Huckabee said of the meeting. "(Or) have s'mores, or sing campfire songs, or anything yet. But I think there's a lot more we agree on."

In fact, Huckabee and Seawel say they agree on over 90 percent of proposed educational changes. Seawell, however, said just last week in Pocahontas that the governor will not be able to muster enough votes for his plan.

"I'm not sure any plan has the votes right now," Huckabee said. "We don't know. We wouldn't know unless you polled over 135 legislators and asked them.

"I think right now a lot of people are listening to strong and loud voices, but they may not yet be hearing from the taxpayers, who will be asked to pour hundreds and millions of dollars into the same system without any real changes or reform."