Arkansas Supreme Court Removes Itself from School Funding Case; Praises Legislators

JUNE 18, 2004 - Posted at 2:46 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas Supreme Court today ended a twelve-year lawsuit that has led to major reforms of the state's public school system.

In a split decision, four of seven justices said the Legislature had adequately changed the course of problems facing a system the court had declared unconstitutional less than two years ago.

Dissenting justices said the court should maintain some control over Arkansas' 256 school districts to make sure they follow improvements dictated by legislators in a special session earlier this year.

The case began in 1992 when Lake View, a poor mostly black district in the Delta, sued the state, alleging Arkansas failed to fund districts evenly.  Intervenors later questioned whether the state spent enough on schools overall.

Under a court-order from 2002, the Legislature declared education the state's number one funding priority, toughened academic requirements, raised teacher pay and closed 57 of the smallest districts.

Writing for the majority, Justice Robert Brown called the legislative accomplishments "truly impressive."  But writing a dissenting opinion, Justice Donald Corbin wrote that the decision showed weakness and would make it look like the schools had passed the constitutional test, when they had not.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)