High court won't reconsider school-funding case

Posted: January 17, 2013 at 9:31 a.m.
Updated: January 17, 2013 at 10:26 a.m.

— The Arkansas Supreme Court said Thursday that it will not reconsider its ruling that lets school districts keep excess property-tax revenue if they raise more money than that set under the state’s funding formula.

The high court denied Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s request that the court rehear the case. Three justices of the seven-member court dissented in the brief court opinion.

Justices ruled last year that state education officials cannot withhold excess money from the Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake school districts, where higher property-tax collections pushed the districts above total school funding levels set by state law.

State officials have warned that the court ruling could jeopardize Arkansas’ school funding system, which was tied up in court challenges for years.

McDaniel said the decision throws into question past rulings directing the state to provide a substantially equal and adequate education for its students. He argued that could create huge disparities among the state’s districts.

“The court’s opinions strongly suggests that equity no longer constitutes an independent limit on school funding, but that so long as adequacy is provided then equity will be satisfied as well,” McDaniel wrote in the petition.

Gov. Mike Beebe has said he hopes the Legislature can address the issue this session.

Rep. James McLean, chairman of the House Education Committee, said he’s not eager to take up legislation to address the ruling.

“I think we need to take a wait-and-see approach, see how this all shakes out,” said McLean, D-Batesville. “I think we need to have a lot of discussion before we start talking about filing bills to try and correct this.”

Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Eugene Sayre, who represents the Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake school districts, didn’t immediately respond to a phone message either.

Read tomorrow's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.