Favorite

Hold your applause 

Nominal progressives cheered Gov. Mike Huckabee for coming to the dance for proposed Amendment 1, which alters the state's school finance scheme.

No standing ovation is required. Huckabee had the confidence-building company of solid Republicans as well as the reactionary Ron Russell, head of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Business favors this cheap solution. It pre-empts any talk of the vast inequities in our taxing system, particularly the ridiculously low property taxes paid by farmers and timber companies.

The school situation is, at its core, quite simple. The state has more than 300 school districts of vastly different property wealth and varying degrees of enthusiasm for taxation. Per pupil spending, though augmented by the state, varied dramatically.

A judge ruled the system unconstitutional and gave the state two years to craft a solution. Such court-ordered crisis management happened once before. In 1983, the result was a revolution in Arkansas education, powered by Bill Clinton's sales tax increase.

Neither the legislature nor then-Governor Jim Guy Tucker were so bold in 1995. They had three simple choices, the first two worthy, but unacceptably progressive: 1) pump in more money to bring the poor school districts up; 2) reduce the number of school districts by consolidation.

Politicians chose Door No. 3--tinker with the existing formula. Thus was born proposed Amendment 1, a resource-pooling idea that Robin Hood would admire. Under it, all districts must contribute proceeds from a 25-mill property tax to the state, which will redistribute the local money along with state dollars. The potential problems:

•Sponsors promise the money will be distributed equally on a per capita basis, but the amendment doesn't require it. The legislature will decide how the money is split.

•The amendment doesn't define the minimum tax millage. Would it count only proceeds from a 25-mill tax levied solely for maintenance and operations or would the definition count, as it does under current statutes, debt service and construction millages and state subsidies? The amendment doesn't say. The wrong answer from a court could require more local tax increases than the handful now expected under the amendment.

•The amendment not only doesn't guarantee equity, it provides constitutional protection for inequity. The amendment allows "funding variations" among districts in the name of enhanced education. In other words, districts that invoke educational aims would seem to be able to spend more money per student than their neighbors. The amendment gives the legislature power to curb excessive spending, but it's not a constitutional requirement.

Some educators have quietly raised these and other concerns. They are reluctant to speak out, mainly for lack of viable alternatives. And the governor has articulated a powerful populist argument: Would voters rather the legislature or the courts run the schools?

The amendment may deserve approval, but not on account of Huckabee's argument. Any student of government in Arkansas knows equity in education has come only after the coercive thump of a judicial gavel. Left to its parochial whims, the General Assembly invariably creates inequities rather than cures them.

Print headline: "Hold your applause" September 27, 1996.

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Tuesday's open line and the news roundup

    Here's the open line and a roundup of news and comment.
    • Jan 17, 2017
  • Poore announces school closure plans in Little Rock

    With a healthy number of unhappy school district residents on hand, Little Rock School Superintendent Michael Poore announced today his plans for closure of school facilities said to be required to balance the budget as state desegregation aid ends and enrollment drops with movement of students to charter and other schools.
    • Jan 17, 2017
  • State Police nab wanted man after chase in Little Rock

    State Police arrested a fleeing driver, a wanted fugitive from North Carolina, after an interstate chase in Little Rock this morning.
    • Jan 17, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Supremely discredited

    Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood and her allies continue to discredit the state's highest court.
    • Jul 30, 2015
  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015
  • Neighborliness, in Little Rock and beyond

    I had a parochial topic in mind this week — a surprise plan by Mayor Mark Stodola to address the Arkansas Arts Center's many needs.
    • Nov 19, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Praising Asa

    Let us now praise the governor for a starkly moderate record, at least in comparison with other red-state executives.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • More on LRSD tax

    When the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a Walton Foundation-paid lobbyist, long devoted critics of the Little Rock School District, lead the messaging for a quarter-billion dollars in new tax debt for the district, it is cause for caution.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • Little Rock school tax? No deal.

    The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce is busy back-room politicking and — again — supporters of democratic public schools should be wary.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Indian Rock House at Fairfield Bay

Indian Rock House at Fairfield Bay

Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Hillbillies

    • One last thought - oh, Nanc, do try not to refer to your children, adorable…

    • on January 14, 2017
  • Re: Hillbillies

    • Dearest Nanc - My, my - showing a good bit of hatred yourself, Look into…

    • on January 14, 2017
  • Re: Hillbillies

    • I'm with you all the way, Nanc.

    • on January 14, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation