Masters take testimony

(February 24, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- A pair of state Supreme Court masters holding a hearing on whether the state has done enough in making court-ordered education reforms are expected to review written testimony today. The masters heard oral testimony from a pair of state-paid education experts yesterday. California consultant James Guthrie and his partner, James Smith, praised actions taken by the Legislature while playing down a 400-thousand dollar educational adequacy study lawmakers commissioned but partly ignored. In a special session, the legislature passed sweeping reforms and nearly 400 million dollars in new taxes to pay for them. Guthrie says the amount of money that will be distributed is the most he's ever seen. But Smith testified he would not expect dramatic changes in student performance for five to 10 years. State lawyer Tim Gauger of the attorney general's office said Arkansas had made significant progress toward improving public education. Attorney Leon Holmes, representing Governor Huckabee, agreed that the Legislature had taken important steps, but he pushed the governor's position that the state could not afford costly reforms without further consolidation of schools. The educational adequacy study recommended education reforms to be phased in at an estimated cost of 847 million dollars, including lowering class sizes in early elementary grades, a 100 million dollar expansion of preschool and a 10 percent pay raise for teachers. The Legislature appropriated 40 million for preschool, rejected the class-size recommendations and increased minimum teacher salaries less than six thousand dollars.