Education Funding

Court Orders Arkansas To Fix K-12 Funding

By John Gehring — December 04, 2002 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Arkansas’ 2003 legislative session just got busier.

The state supreme court has declared the state’s school funding system unconstitutional, and in its strongly worded opinion late last month rebuked the state for not doing enough to provide all students with an adequate education.

Come early next year, the legislature must add to its agenda the mammoth task of finding a more equitable way of paying for its K-12 schools. The price tag for that endeavor has been pegged at anywhere between $400 million and $900 million a year.

The decision in Lake View School District v. Gov. Mike Huckabee affirmed the major findings of a lower-court ruling last year that deemed the school finance formula unconstitutional for the third time in less than 20 years.

In last year’s ruling, Pulaski County Judge Collins Kilgore found that the current funding system, which distributes money on a per-pupil basis, does not consider that poorer districts need additional help. (“Arkansas School Finance System Overturned,” June 6, 2001.)

The state appealed, but the Arkansas Supreme Court, in its Nov. 21 ruling, upheld the tenets of the trial court’s decision.

“We emphasize, once more, the dire need for changing the school funding system forthwith to bring it into constitutional compliance,” Associate Justice Robert Brown wrote in the decision. “No longer can the state operate on a ‘hands off’ basis regarding how state money is spent in local school districts and what the effect of that spending is.”

All of the justices concurred with the majority opinion that the finance system was unconstitutional. One justice wrote a dissent on a technical point not related to the overall issue at the heart of the case.

The 70-page decision noted Arkansas’ “abysmal rankings” on such education indicators as high school graduation rates, standardized-test scores, and education expenditures compared with those of other states.

In recent years, Arkansas has ranked last among states in per-capita state and local government expenditures for elementary and secondary education. It also has ranked lower than the national average in the percentage of adults who have graduated from high school.

The opinion also cited testimony about inadequate facilities and low teacher pay in the 226-student Lake View schools, a rural district 60 miles from Memphis, Tenn., where most students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. In the court’s opinion, the justices noted that the district had only one mathematics teacher—who was uncertified and made $10,000 a year—to teach all high school mathematics courses. (“Ark. Leaders Confront Tough Options,” Aug. 7, 2002.)

The state had argued that defining an “adequate education,” which Arkansas is required to provide to all its students under the state constitution, was impossible to do. But the opinion criticized the state department of education for failing to respond to the legislature’s request for an “adequacy study” seven years ago.

Education department officials told the legislature recently it would take several months to complete an adequacy study.

‘The Big Issue’

How Arkansas will pay for a more equitable and costly funding system is not clear.

“I don’t think at this point we can answer that question,” said Rep. Olin Cook, a Democrat and the outgoing chairman of the House education committee. “Sin taxes” on alcohol or cigarettes, he said, are possible revenue sources.

“The funding related to this court case will be the big issue of this [legislative] session,” Mr. Cook said. “It’s going to be difficult, but I do think some money will be found.”

But Dan Farley, the executive director of the Arkansas School Boards Association, said that school districts are already worried about a part of the high court’s ruling that could force them to increase local property taxes. The concern stems from a technical and somewhat confusing part of state law that the court struck down.

In 1997, the state legislature adopted a constitutional amendment requiring districts to have at least 25 mills of property tax for maintenance and operation of schools. The court struck down the provision because it allowed districts to include maintenance and operational costs in taxes levied to service bond debt.The supreme court ruled that using the debt-service revenue for maintenance and operation of schools violated the constitutional amendment.

Mr. Farley said that more than 240 school districts would be affected by that part of the decision. “This has many districts in the state very concerned and alarmed,” he said.

Sen. Mike Beebe, a Democrat and the Senate’s president pro tempore, who was elected state attorney general last month, helped write the state law in question. He says the court misinterpreted the law, and he wants outgoing Attorney General Mark Pryor, a Democrat who has been elected to the U.S. Senate, to ask the court to review that portion of the ruling.

Mr. Pryor must decide before Mr. Beebe takes office in January. The deadline to file a motion is 18 days from the opinion date.

Kellar Noggle, the executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, said a resolution won’t be easy, but added, “It’s a great opportunity for us to see an improved school system at the end of this process.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2002 edition of Education Week as Court Orders Arkansas To Fix K-12 Funding

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Deepen the Reach and Impact of Your Leadership
This webinar offers new and veteran leaders a unique opportunity to listen and interact with four of the most influential educational thinkers in North America. With their expert insights, you will learn the key elements
Content provided by Solution Tree
Science K-12 Essentials Forum Teaching Science Today: Challenges and Solutions
Join this event which will tackle handling controversy in the classroom, and making science education relevant for all students.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Stronger Together: Integrating Social and Emotional Supports in an Equity-Based MTSS
Decades of research have shown that when schools implement evidence-based social and emotional supports and programming, academic achievement increases. The impact of these supports – particularly for students of color, students from low-income communities, English
Content provided by Illuminate Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Funding More Federal Aid Is Coming for Schools Struggling to Buy Food Due to Supply-Chain Crisis
The $1.5 billion USDA infusion is the second in several months to help schools purchase food amid shortages and price increases.
2 min read
Stacked Red Cafeteria trays in a nearly empty lunch room.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding School Districts Are Starting to Spend COVID Relief Funds. The Hard Part Is Deciding How
A new database shows districts' spending priorities for more than $122 billion in federal aid are all over the place.
8 min read
Educators delivering money.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding The Political Spotlight on Schools' COVID Relief Money Isn't Going Away
Politicians and researchers are among those scrutinizing the use and oversight of billions in pandemic education aid.
7 min read
Business man with brief case looking under a giant size bill (money).
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Education Funding Here's How Schools Can Use Federal COVID Aid to Solve Bus Driver and Other Transportation Woes
The Education Department outlines districts' options for using relief money to solve nationwide problems in getting kids to and from school.
2 min read
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools and day care centers on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in Ambridge, Pa.
Students catch their bus near Ambridge Area Senior High School in Ambridge, Pa., earlier this year on the first day of Pennsylvania's mask mandate for K-12 schools.
Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP