“APF concedes PA 35 (the Arkansas Student Assessment and Educational Accountability Act of 2004) provides for accountability and testing measures. Our objection is that the effective date of the testing system does not occur in all areas prior to the 2009-10 school year. These tests are readily available now. APF would ask: Why should the State wait until 2009 since testing is a key element of the entire program?” (Amicus Curie Brief of Arkansas Policy Foundation, Lake View School District No. 25 v. Mike Huckabee, Governor of the State of Arkansas, et al.)

“The General Assembly undertook an ambitious slate of bills during the Regular and Second Extraordinary Sessions in 2003 and 2004, and enacted an impressive number of them. Are measures in place to evaluate the performance and rankings of Arkansas students by grade, including rankings in-state, regionally, and nationally? Measures are certainly in place but much remains to be done to fully implement the system. Many of the enactments will be phased in; some will not be effective until the end of this decade. Rules must be promulgated, commissions must be appointed, people must be trained, assessment instruments must be developed. To say that “laws” are in place is easy; to say that “measures” are in place is perhaps premature.” (Conclusion, Question 8, Special Masters Report To The Supreme Court of Arkansas)

(April 20, 2004) The Arkansas Supreme Court, in February, appointed two Special Masters and designated 10 issues of investigation in the Lake View school finance case, which dates to the mid-1990s. Masters Bradley Jessom and David Newbern, issued their findings in a report to the Court earlier this month, and commented on several issues raised by the Policy Foundation in its amicus curie (friend-of-the-court) brief.

The issues—accountability, administrative restructuring and efficiency—date to 1998 recommendations by the Murphy Commission. APF argued in the brief Arkansas would benefit from accountability and testing measures, efficiency, administrative restructuring and a functional accounting system.

Accountability and Testing

The Special Masters examined action taken by the state legislature to improve accountability through student testing. The Supreme Court, in its order appointing the Masters, framed the question as follows:

Question 8: The Accountability and Testing measures in place to evaluate the performance and rankings of Arkansas students by grade, including rankings in-state, regionally, and nationally.

APF argued in its brief that PA 35 of 2004 provides for accountability through student testing but noted full implementation will not occur until the 2009-10 school year. The idea, proposed by the Murphy Commission in 1998, has been championed in the last year by a coalition of Arkansas business leaders. The Masters devote nearly 10 pages of their report to a discussion of Act 35, noting (p. 107): “A principal achievement of the Regular and Special Sessions was the General Assembly’s accountability-related legislation.” The Masters also concluded, “Many of the enactments will be phased in; some will not be effective until the end of this decade.”

Efficiency and Administrative Restructuring

The word “efficient,” APF noted in its brief, is used in Article 14 of the Arkansas Constitution, which provides for a free system of public education. The brief argues, “APF would respectfully submit that the issue of efficiency should have been thoroughly investigated. Does “consolidation” mean rural communities must surrender their teams and mascots, or can they preserve their identities by merging administrative positions within a multi-district area? Is it an efficient use of scarce economic resources for the Arkansas K-12 system to employ 308 superintendents when 134 would suffice? Should school finance be about preserving 174 administrative jobs or about the future of 449,171 Arkansas K-12 students? What are Arkansas’ priorities?”

The Masters noted the term “consolidation” was not used in the Court’s ruling in the Lake View case. They did, however, discuss efficiency in their report to the Court, which noted:

“We also cannot ignore administrative consolidation, which has the potential for making more efficient use of the resources already available.” (p. 89)

APF has recommended administrative restructuring to create efficiency.

A Functional Accounting System

The Masters did not note APF’s concerns about PA 61 (the Arkansas Educational Financial Accounting and Reporting Act of 2004) in their report to the Court. The Act provides for a uniform K-12 accounting system. APF, in its brief, noted a disclaimer at the Arkansas Department of Education site acknowledges some data used by the system is inaccurate.

It is unclear whether the Supreme Court or legislature will take further action in response to the Masters report. APF is not a party to the Lake View case. An amicus brief is filed by a non-party who believes the Court’s final decision may affect its interest. Information in a brief could assist the Court with its decision. The brief is the second filed by APF since 2001.