Arkansas School Funding Re-Emerges as Issue (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 5:03 pm  

The state Supreme Court's ruling on Thursday throws a new element of uncertainty into a contentious legislative session where lawmakers planned to wrangle over the state's Medicaid program and adjust to a new Republican majority. (Photo by Dustin Nevill)

Justices stepped back into the case in 2005, ruling that the system was still inadequate. After lawmakers boosted funding levels and set aside $456 million for school facilities, justices in 2007 finally ended the case.

Few in the Legislature witnessed the funding flap firsthand, with term limits thinning out many veterans of the Lake View battles.

"There are only a few of us around here who still have the scars," said Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, who will be vice chair the Senate Education Committee next year.

One of those veterans is Gov. Mike Beebe, who as a state senator authored and campaigned for the 1996 amendment approved by voters that set the minimum millage standard. Though he told reporters that decorum prevented him from saying what he thought about the intelligence of the court's decision, he didn't spare any words on what he thought about its impact.

"This flies right in the face of what the people passed," Beebe told reporters last week.

It's unclear where the fight goes next. The state is expected to ask the court to reconsider its ruling, but Danielson suggested that lawmakers could address the issue on their own by giving the state the authority to redistribute any excess funds collected.

Beebe wouldn't say whether he'll ask legislators to make the change, noting uneasily that such a move shows how the court has opened the door to changing many of the state's school funding reforms. But even if he does, he'll face resistance from Republicans who will control both chambers of the Legislature after last month's election.

House Republican Leader Bruce Westerman has vowed to oppose any efforts to allow the state to claim the funds as its own. Westerman, R-Hot Springs, pushed back against the notion that the court had re-opened the Lake View fight.

"The sky isn't falling," he tweeted hours after the ruling.

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