Education Reform--What is Fair & Equitable?

December 9, 2003 -- Posted at 10:46 a.m.

JONESBORO--As lawmakers meet in Little Rock this week to decide the fate of Arkansas schools, many wonder what the outcome might be.

"The Arkansas Constitution says that the state is obligated to provide or to have a general, suitable and efficient system of public schools for our children," said attorney Price Marshall.

The Arkansas Supreme Court found that the state of Arkansas was not meeting it's constitutional obligation in the case of Lake View Schools versus Huckabee.

Price Marshall is a lawyer with Barrett & Deacon in Jonesboro. He was hired by the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce & Associated Industries of Arkansas to file a 'friend of the court' brief affirming the supreme court decision.

Marshall said, "What the Arkansas Supreme Court said is, this is a matter of policy...the people, through their representatives and through the governor, need to decide's not for us to say."

And so to the people the issue goes...this week legislative members are meeting in Little Rock for a special session to rule on education reform.

Superintendents, teachers, and students across Arkansas are waiting to find out what will happen....many fear consolidation. The capitol was full of protestors, rallying against consolidation.

Dr. Radius Baker is the superintendent of Valley View Schools, and admits, they are in limbo, somewhat.

His school ranks in the top 10 districts in Arkansas for test scoring....and has been labeled the second most efficient school in the state. But, the school has 1,489 students...and depending on which proposal is passed, Valley View could be consolidated.

Baker said, "I don't see how they can come in and say Valley View you're going to have to consolidate with another district....because we have proven that we one, do the things we need to do to educate children; two, we do it effectively; three, we do it efficiently, and I think they have to look at those issues.

But legislators will be leaning on a lot more than law books during this weeks special session. they'll also have to consider just where funding will come from.

Marshall said, "Funding is one of the policy questions the legislative has to resolve in the next 30 days. Increasing the sales tax is one of the proposals that's on the table. Increasing the severance tax, and perhaps an income tax increase...all of these are difficult questions for the legislature as to how to raise the extra money it's going to take to pay for the reforms.

All forms of revenue are on the table...exactly where those taxes will come from, still remain to be seen.