High court hears education arguments today

(January 22, 2004) — (Little Rock-AP) -- Arguments are to be held before the Arkansas Supreme Court this morning on the Legislature's failure to meet a deadline for reforming the state's unconstitutional public education system. The lawyer for the Lake View School District that brought the initial school funding lawsuit wants a shutdown of an array of state services until the state has a plan for improving its schools. Lake View lawyer Bill Lewellen says the state constitution stipulates that education is a priority. So, he wants the high court to suspend funding to non-constitutionally mandated portions government. Attorney General Mike Beebe is to argue on behalf of the state. He has already asked the high court to grant more time to the Legislature. Governor Huckabee has organized meetings with state officials to plan for a partial government shutdown. Huckabee said yesterday he's nervous about the possible shutdown. The court ordered changes in November 2002 and gave the state until January first, 2004, to put the reforms in place. The new year arrived with no significant changes in the way Arkansas educates 450-thousand pupils among its 308 districts. Legislators met in a regular session for four months last year but reached no agreement. Huckabee wanted to merge the smallest 100 or so districts. A special session began December eighth, but legislators have reached few conclusions.