"Consolidation lite" awaits lawmakers

(January 15, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- The Arkansas House is expected to vote on a school consolidation bill today, a step legislators on both sides of the Capitol are watching closely. The House Education Committee approved a bill yesterday that would require administrative consolidation of school districts with fewer than 350 students. It is an alternative to Governor Mike Huckabee's plan that sets a 500-student enrollment minimum for consolidation. The bill is from Representative Will Bond, a Jacksonville Democrat. It was promoted as a trimmed-down compromise that could break a months-long impasse that has blocked progress toward a new school funding formula and taxes to fund it. Bond said he would bring it up for a vote in the House today. Notably, House Speaker Herschel Cleveland, the House's leading opponent to Huckabee's plan, did not vote against Bond's alternative. However, Senator Jim Argue dismissed Bond's alternative as cosmetic. Argue sponsored Huckabee's version of the legislation. He said he would reserve comment until he sees how the House treats the measure.