| Success Story | Advocacy
Strategies | Costing Out | Useful
In 1983, the Arkansas Supreme Court found the state's
school funding system unconstitutional under the equal
protection clause of the state constitution, in Dupree
v. Alma School District No. 30. The court found
no legitimate state purpose and no rational relationship
to educational needs in the state's method of financing
public schools. This equity ruling rejected "local
control" as a possible justification for the disparities
of funding and educational opportunities in the state's
After the 1983 court decision, the state revised its
funding statutes, but plaintiffs challenged the revised
system. In 2001, an Arkansas trial court declared the
state's education funding system unconstitutional:
“The school funding system now in place . .
. is inequitable and inadequate under . . . the Arkansas
constitution." The court wrote, "Too many
of our children are leaving school for a life of deprivation,
burdening our culture with the corrosive effects of
citizens who lack the education to contribute."
Moreover, the court determined that a constitutional
finance system must be based on the amount of money
needed to provide an adequate educational system and
that "an adequacy [cost] study is necessary and
must be conducted forthwith.” Lake
View School District, No. 25 v. Huckabee, No.
1992-5318 (Pulaski County Chancery Court May 25, 2001).
The Lake View court based its definition of
the "general, suitable and efficient system of
free public schools" required by the Arkansas constitution
decision and adopted the Rose factors as the
requirements for an adequate education. The court also
relied on Arkansas's standards for student achievement
and accountability to charge the state with providing
adequate funding to allow the system's students to achieve
the expected outcomes.
The governor appealed, and the Arkansas Supreme Court
affirmed the lower
court's findings, giving the state until January
1, 2004 to perform a cost study and establish a constitutional
funding system. When the state missed the January 2004
deadline, plaintiffs brought a compliance motion, which
led to the appointment of special masters by the court
and swift action by the legislature, then in special
session. The two special masters reported to the state
supreme court, and the court terminated its jurisdiction
in June 2004.
After the 2005 legislative session, plaintiffs asked
the court to [recall the mandate] in Lake View.
The court did so and reappointed the special masters
who issued a report in October, concluding that “the
2005 legislation…for school year 2005-06 is difficult
to defend.” The supreme court ruled in late 2005
that the legislature had failed to comply with its own
school funding statues and had under funded education.
A special session, held in April 2006, increased funding
before the court's December 2006 deadline.
After the 2007 legislative session, the special masters
reported that the legislature had complied with the
court rulings, had established a constitutionally acceptable
school finance system (including state support for facilities),
and had processes in place to continue to provide adequate
resources for schools in the future. The Arkansas Supreme
Court adopted the report and closed the case. In sum,
the adequacy litigation led to increased state funding
for public education, additional state data collection,
and a new unprecedented state commitment to adequate
school buildings. The state has committed $846 million
for facilities, with additional bonding authorized,
and increased operating aid by over $400 million, over
17 percent, in the 2003-05 biennium. Arkansas has also
become a leader in providing preschool opportunities
to its “at-risk” children.
The governor's primary response to the 2002 court decision
was a campaign for school district consolidation. To
oppose this campaign and push for school improvements
instead, advocates from across the state formed the
Arkansas Grass Roots Network, including Arkansans for
Excellence in Education, Arkansas Communities Uniting
for Results in Education, American Family Association
of Arkansas, the Arkansas African American Administrators
Associations, the Arkansas
Public Policy Panel/Citizens First Congress, Save
Our Schools, and the Arkansas
Rural Education Association. Analysis provided by
Rural School and Community Trust demonstrated the
effectiveness of small schools, especially for low-income
and minority students, such as those in many Arkansas
districts. The Network succeeded in convincing numerous
legislators that sustaining small schools, with their
high graduation rates and strong community support,
is a more effective way to fulfill the court's mandate.
In a compromise, the legislature passed a measure calling
for consolidation for districts with fewer than 350
In September 2003, the Arkansas Joint Committee on
Educational Adequacy released
a study that estimated the cost of providing an
adequate education for the state's pre-K through 12th-grade
students. The cost study
asserted that annual school funding would have to increase
by $848 million to provide the resources needed to enable
students to meet the state's performance standards.
That was a 33% increase over the $2.6 billion spent
by Arkansas schools in the 2001-2002 school year.
of the 2003 study, released in 2006, found that
most of the funding needs from ’03 were being
met. It recommended increased funding for students learning
English and those living in poverty.
Rural School and Community Trust, "Small
Works in Arkansas: How Poverty and the Size of Schools
and School Districts Affect School Performance in Arkansas"
Last updated February, 2008