State High Court Demands Education Fix by December '06

by Lance Turner  on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2005 11:59 am  

The State Supreme Court on Thursday again declared that the Arkansas Legislature failed to adequately fund Arkansas' public school system, and it said lawmakers must cure funding deficiencies by Dec. 1, 2006.

The ruling comes after the court reopened the Lake View school funding case this summer citing complaints from schools that legislators have not done enough to fix the state's school system.

It had reappointed Bradley D. Jesson, former chief justice of the court, and David Newbern, a former justice of the court, to serve as masters in the case and told them to provide a report, which was finally released in October.

In the report, Jesson and Newbern said the Legislature did not make good on its promise to improve the state's K-12 public education system and suggested a special session to allocate more money toward a solution.

The state argued against those findings before the court in November. Gov. Mike Huckabee is scheduled to comment on the ruling at 2 p.m. Thursday.

But on Thursday, the Supreme Court still held that the state did not adequately fund the state's schools for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 school years. Furthermore, the court said the General Assembly could not have provided adequate funding because it didn't make an effort to determine what adequate funding would be.

While the court called upon lawmakers to address school funding deficiencies, it did not order a special session or provide specific funding guidelines, as requested by the Rogers School District, one of the districts that complained about inadequate funding.

"Whether an increase is necessary is for the General Assembly to determine," Associate Justice Robert L. Brown wrote.

But a solution would seem to require a special session, given that the General Assembly is not scheduled to meet again until 2007.

Text of Justice Brown's Conclusion

F. Conclusions

Just as we decided in 2004, we conclude that we have jurisdiction to recall our mandate and address the motions filed by the Rogers School District. See Lake View Sch. Dist. No. 25 v. Huckabee, 355 Ark. 617, 142 S.W.3d 643 (2004).

With respect to the remaining issues addressed by the Masters, we hold that the General Assembly failed to comply with Act 57 and Act 108 in the 2005 regular session and, by doing so, retreated from its prior actions to comply with this court's directives in Lake View Sch. Dist. No. 25 v. Huckabee, 351 Ark. 31, 91 S.W.3d 472 (2002). We further hold that the General Assembly could not have provided adequate funding for the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years as it made no effort to comply with Act 57 and to determine what adequate funding should be. To argue that inaction under Act 57 may equate to adequacy, as the State seems to maintain, does not thread the needle of either logic or reason. In connection with facilities funding, we hold that appropriations for the Immediate Repair Program and Priority One facilities construction and repair for safe, dry, and healthy facilities were grossly underfunded and, thus, inadequate.

To assure an adequate education for the school children of this state and a substantially equal educational opportunity, which the Arkansas Constitution demands, the procedures set forth in Act 57 and Act 108 must be complied with forthwith. Otherwise, a two-year hiatus in educational adequacy will result. As part and parcel of this adequacy analysis, we call upon the General Assembly to address the deficiencies listed above.

While we recognize that failures in the process due to noncompliance with Act 57 and Act 108 are evident, this court does not direct the General Assembly to appropriate a specific increase in foundation or categorized funding amounts, as requested by the Rogers School District. Whether an increase is necessary is for the General Assembly to determine, after its compliance with existing legislation and its assessment of the relevant information necessary for fixing funding levels in the current biennium, including available revenues, surplus funds, and expenditures by the school districts.

Because we hold that the public school-funding system continues to be inadequate, we further hold that our public schools are operating under a constitutional infirmity which must be corrected immediately. We have held in the past that the General Assembly and Department of Education should have time to cure the deficiencies, and we do so again. We stay the issuance of our mandate until December 1, 2006, to allow the necessary time to correct the constitutional deficiencies.

We emphasize once more that it is the State that must provide a general, suitable, and efficient system of public education to the children of this state under the Arkansas Constitution. The roles of the executive and legislative branches are integral to assuring that this transpires. But it is also the duty of this court to assure constitutional compliance when compliance is challenged and to assure that the will of the people of our state as expressed in our constitution is fulfilled. We will perform that duty.

Granted in part. Denied in part.

Motion to Strike State's Brief denied. Motion to Take Judicial Notice denied.

Glaze, J., and Special Justice Dalby, concur.

Hannah, C.J., and Gunter, J., dissent.

Imber, J., not participating.



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