Special session ends, issue lingers

(June 10, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- The special legislative session on education may be over, but uncertainty over what it accomplished is not. The session formally ended yesterday. It remains unclear whether the sweeping changes it yielded are enough to satisfy a court order to reform the public school system. The state Supreme Court is measuring legislative action against the court's own 10-point criteria for improving schools, and a federal judge is reviewing a lawsuit to block a new state law that ordered the mergers of school districts with fewer than 350 students. U-S District Judge George Howard Junior has refused to issue a temporary restraining order that the plaintiffs - some small school districts and their advocates -- wanted to halt the mergers of 57 affected districts. Those mergers are scheduled to be completed by July first. And the Arkansas Supreme Court still has not issued a final order on legislative efforts to meet the court order or said whether it will retain jurisdiction over the school funding case. The record-long 61-day special session recessed on February sixth, but legislators came back March fourth to override a veto and pass technical corrections, then recessed again until yesterday. A handful of the 135 legislators reconvened only long enough to hear the final gavel.