Huckabee: voters may decide education reform

(August 6, 2003) - (Van Buren-AP) -- Governor Huckabee says the idea of going straight to voters to approve an education reform plan is looking more likely. He says the public seems more interested in education reform than some legislators and superintendents who have NOT reached a consensus on needed changes. Huckabee warned yesterday that as the state approaches a January state Supreme Court deadline to make needed reforms, leaders take the chance of having the courts take over the job. House Majority Leader Harmon Seawel has said the governor's current plan has little chance of passing the House. Seawel has offered his own outline of the way the state should approach the contentious issue of consolidating smaller, under- performing districts. Huckabee has said he will NOT call a special session on education reforms unless legislators can reach consensus on major issues beforehand. The governor has called on taxpayers and leaders of large districts to support his plan or face higher taxes without seeing any benefits. Seawel held a meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in Little Rock last night to discuss 18 general concepts in an effort to outline the party's views on education reform. He says all 18 points were generally approved, although that changed from total agreement by all present to a bare majority on others. Seawel says the Democrats overwhelmingly agreed that teachers' salaries must be raised closer to the national average and that accountability methods need an overhaul. He says they also agreed, although not overwhelmingly, that leadership and community support -- not size -- are the main factors in determining performance. Seawel called the meeting a major step forward in coming to a consensus for discussions about reform in a special session.