Witnesses: still no equity

(March 12, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- Special masters tasked to evaluate state efforts to make court-ordered education reforms are considering testimony given in a two-day hearing that ended yesterday. Much of the testimony was on whether a new funding system addresses district-to-district disparity in teacher pay. Yesterday, Plainview-Rover superintendent Jimmy Cunningham and Earle superintendent Jack Crumley testified that despite additional funding for preschool programs, poor students and consolidation incentives, the system does little to close a gap in teacher salaries that makes it hard for poor rural districts to retain quality teachers. Cunningham says poor districts will use the bulk of their substantial new funding to meet boosted minimum teacher salaries, but wealthier districts that could already afford to pay more will still get additional funding. David Matthews, lawyer for the Bentonville and Rogers school districts and a defender of the new funding system, noted Plainview-Rover had 32 teachers when studies suggested a more efficient number would be about 19. He says schools with higher student-teacher ratios could better afford to pay teachers more.