Critical education votes nearing

(December 22, 2003) - (Little Rock-AP) -- The future course of public education in Arkansas could be determined by key votes in the Legislature, starting today. Legislators plan only three days of work this week: today, tomorrow and Friday. They face a January first deadline to meet a state Supreme Court demand that the state correct funding deficiencies and inequities that rendered Arkansas' public education system unconstitutional. So far, legislators have focused on structuring the one-point-eight (b) billion dollar system in a way that the state can afford court-ordered academic improvements and teacher salary enhancements. Improvements could cost up to 847 (m) million dollars per year. Governor Huckabee's plan to consolidate school districts with fewer than 500 students passed the Senate on Friday. It awaits a hearing this week in a largely hostile House Education Committee. Also, the House is to vote today on an alternative plan that would put off consolidation for two years.