August 20, 2003 - Posted at: 1:35 p.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Governor Huckabee says he will call a special legislative session on December 8 to work out education improvements.
Huckabee says he made the decision Wednesday.
The governor's announcement in Little Rock comes a day after a special legislative committee wrapped up two days of hearings on how to give Arkansas public school students an adequate education.
Legislators tentatively agreed on a funding formula. Consultantsrecommended to the panel that the state spend $825 million each year to improve the schools.
Huckabee had threatened to not call the session if he did not see an agreement with legislators on the horizon.
Representative Harmon Seawel of Pocahontas has been working on an alternative plan that he says is close to Huckabee's proposal. The governor wants to consolidate high schools in smaller school districts to make reforms affordable and improve curriculum. Rural superintendents and legislators have stridently opposed a cutoff number for consolidation. Huckabee targeted districts with fewer than 1,500 students.
Seawel has said the plan he put forth and Huckabee's plan are close, and said he was hopeful of a compromise.
Huckabee and Seawel each have said they would take their plans to voters. Huckabee says he will continue to develop his plan for an initiated act, but won't put it into action unless the special session fails.
Huckabee says he fears the session could end with no agreement or that an agreement could fall short of compliance with the state Supreme Court order to improve public education.
Meanwhile, legislators say Governor Huckabee's plan to call a special session for December gives time to work up a compromise plan to improve public schools.
State Senator Shane Broadway says legislators and the governor need to spend the coming months working on a compromise. He noted the state Supreme Court set a January 1 deadline to come to an agreement. Thus, legislators will have limited time for debate once the session gets underway.
Representative Jim Hill of Nashville says he'd rather an earlier date but said the late start allows more time to come up with a consensus plan.
Broadway, Hill and Representative Travis Boyd of Piggott all said the date puts pressure on legislators to come to an agreement so they can get their work done in the short time allowed by the session.