Masters stay on fast track

(February 25, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- It looks like there will be a fast-paced finale to a dozen years of litigation over Arkansas public education standards. Two court-appointed special masters evaluating school-reform efforts plan a three-week schedule of testimony and legal argument filings ending March 18th. That will leave former state Supreme Court justices Brad Jesson and David Newbern about two weeks to prepare a report ordered by the Supreme Court. They must determine whether changes made by the legislature bring the public school system up to constitutional standards. A two-day hearing ended yesterday and the masters will take more testimony March tenth. In a special session, legislators constructed a new school funding formula, raised taxes by about 400 million dollars, set new curriculum and accountability standards and boosted teacher salaries. Jesson admonished lawyers who quarreled yesterday over whether the state provided crucial financial data to representatives of the poor eastern Arkansas district that successfully challenged the old funding formula. Jesson says the only way for the masters to make their assessment is if everyone involved works together.