Quick Legislative Session Sets Stage for Future Fights (AP Analysis)

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 9:24 am  

Possible changes to the state's teacher insurance program "will be an issue the General Assembly will have to deal with for years to come," House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, says.

"Those people who believed in Lake View and fought hard for it surely must think they've seen this before," Beebe told reporters, referring to the lawsuit brought by the Lake View School District that led to the funding reforms.

A 1996 constitutional amendment approved by voters requires each school district to levy no less than 25 mills of property tax for maintenance and operation of schools. Districts are allowed to levy more than 25 mills. A mill produces $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

Beebe and other supporters of the proposal noted that the court in its ruling last year suggested that the Legislature could give the state authority to withhold the funds.

The plan, declared dead after it was tabled by a House committee, stirred vocal opposition from several Republicans in the House and Senate who said it amounted to the state raiding local funds.

"Passing it would hurt literally thousands of kids and teachers and school employees in those districts," said House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.

Beebe and supporters of the plan insist the 25 mills isn't local money, noting that it's a state-mandated tax rate intended to maintain equitable funding across all of the state's school districts. Beebe said he doesn't plan on bringing the proposal back during next year's fiscal session, but supporters say they hope to try again in 2015's regular session.

Until then, it's a debate that could wind up in all too familiar place for veterans of the state's school funding fights.

"As with all other aspects of school funding in Arkansas, there's a good chance that it'll find its way back to court," said Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, who chairs the Senate Education Committee. "But that's whether we ... took no action or if we took action, there's a good chance that this issue would be back in court. And that's just the nature of school funding."

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