January 22, 2004 - Posted at 4:03 p.m. CDT
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Arkansas Supreme Court justices formally stepped back into a decades-long fight over school quality today.
Justices said they would appoint a special master to recommend ways to bring public schools up to constitutional standards.
The unsigned order by the court followed a two-hour hearing at which a lawyer for the state acknowledged that legislators meeting in special session missed a January 1 deadline for coming up with ways to improve schools.
The state also pleaded for more time so the Legislature could complete its work.
The court issued its directive as Attorney General Mike Beebe was briefing legislators on the oral arguments heard earlier in the day. In his remarks, he warned them that they were running out of time to comply with the court's 2002 order that declared the school system unconstitutional.
The justices cited the Legislature's non-compliance in reclaiming the case and said it is best to have a special master assess the state of Arkansas' 450,000-student system.