“APF would also commend the Supreme Court in its careful respect for the separation of powers doctrine, in looking to the Legislature to make the curative enactments necessary to bring the school system into constitutional compliance.” (Arkansas Policy Foundation, amicus curiae brief, Lake View School District No. 25 v Mike Huckabee)

"In its amicus curiae brief the Arkansas Education Association suggest that the court retain jurisdiction to review the effect that the new legislation has on teachers' salaries." (Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Tom Glaze)

"It is not within our authority to dictate what sort of educational system the legislature must provide. Rather, our duty is to declare whether a system implemented by the legislature is constitutional once a proper appeal from a circuit court decision on the issue is presented to us." (Justice Jim Hannah)

(June 2004) The Arkansas Supreme Court, dashing the hopes of tax increase supporters and advocates of government early childhood education, released its jurisdiction in the decade-long Lake View school finance case. The Court left intact reforms enacted by the Arkansas legislature earlier in 2004 such as administrative restructuring, norm-referenced national testing and accountability.

The Policy Foundation hailed the ruling. APF noted in its amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief that the separation of powers doctrine meant the legislative, not judicial branch has the authority to enact changes to Arkansas’ K-12 system. By contrast, parties from Governor Mike Huckabee to K-12 districts to the Arkansas Education Association asked the Court to retain jurisdiction, a form of judicial activism rejected in the ruling. Justice Robert L. Brown wrote for the majority:

"At oral argument, this court was urged by counsel for Lake View, counsel for Governor Mike Huckabee, counsel for the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts, and counsel for the Bentonville and Rogers School Districts to retain jurisdiction. Each party had a separate reason: Lake View wanted this court to declare Act 60, the consolidation act, unconstitutional; Governor Mike Huckabee wanted more consolidation; the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts wanted more early-childhood education funding; and the Bentonville and Rogers School Districts wanted this court to "stay the course" and assure that facilities and equipment were equalized. A common theme throughout much of the oral arguments was that if this court does not serve as a "watchdog" agency to assure full compliance with Lake View III, the General Assembly will not complete or fully implement what it hasalready begun. Indeed, the unspoken threat is that the General Assembly might renege or backtrack on school measures already passed.

The Court’s ruling continued:

"There are two things that bother us about these arguments. First, it is not this court's role under our system of government, as created by the Arkansas Constitution, and under the fundamental principle of separation of powers, as set out in Article 4, § 2 of that document, to legislate, to implement legislation, or to serve as a watchdog agency, when there is no matter to be presently decided. This court made it perfectly clear in Wells v. Purcell, 267 Ark. 456, 592 S.W.2d 100 (1979), that the judicial branch cannot arrogate to itself control of the legislative branch. Our role is to hear appeals and decide cases where we have original jurisdiction."

Excerpts from Supreme Court Decision

The Court entered an order in February appointing two Special Masters. The order designated 10 items for investigation to determine whether legislature action brought the K-12 system into constitutional compliance. A lower Court had found the system “inadequate” and “inequitable.” APF, represented by Attorney Cathleen V. Compton, commented on each item in its amicus brief.

Item #7 (The accountability and accounting measures in place for the State to determine per-pupil expenditures and how money is actually being spent in local school districts).

Court: "The Masters were very positive about the numerous steps the General Assembly took regarding information provided to the public about school expenditures. They describe these accountability and accounting steps as "laudable" in determining per-pupil expenditures and where the money is going." (The measures include PA 35 of 2004, which determines if K-12 districts meet "best financial management code" practices. Districts must be reviewed on site, graded, and be publicly reported.)

Item #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 amicus brief: “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?”

Court: "The Masters conclude that the General Assembly undertook an "ambitious slate" of bills and enacted an "impressive number of them." They conclude further that much needs to be done to fully implement the system, such as the adoption of rules; commission appointments, training, and development of assessment instruments. To say that measures are in place for accountability and testing, they believe, is "premature."


Court: "We will not venture into this debate and mandate a specific consolidation program, as we are firmly convinced that an efficient public education as well as a general and suitable public education must be ordained by the executive and legislative branches of this State. What is radiantly clear, however, is that if an adequate curriculum, adequate facilities, and adequate equipment cannot be afforded to the school children in the smaller school districts of this state due to a lack of sufficient economic resources, more efficient measures to afford that adequacy will be inevitable."

Early Childhood Education

Court: "We disagree that early childhood education is a program that this court can now mandate to be funded at a certain level."

Case Background

The case started in 1992 as a challenge brought by plaintiff districts that claimed they did not receive their share of Arkansas education expenditures under state and federal constitutional mandates. In 1994, following a trial, the trial Court entered an order holding the State funding mechanism inequitable under the Equal Protection clause of the Arkansas Constitution because of certain funding disparities. The trial Court also found the mechanism inadequate under Article 14, Section 1 of the Constitution because it failed to provide a "general, suitable and efficient" public school system. The trial court stayed its order for two years to give the legislature time to remedy the situation. In response to the 1994 order, and during the period of the stay, the legislature made a number of modifications to the K-12 statutory framework, and voters adopted Amendment 74 to the Constitution. In 1998, the trial court dismissed the case, reasoning the new statutes and Amendment 74 had made moot plaintiffs' grievances.

The plaintiff districts appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the Chancery Court in Pulaski County, holding the plaintiffs were entitled to a "compliance trial" to test the curative effects of 1995 and 1997 legislative acts. The Supreme Court directed the "trial should take place as soon as possible". The trial took place in 2000 before Judge Collins Kilgore, who found the funding mechanism “inadequate” and “inequitable” in a 2001 order. The Supreme Court upheld the order, took jurisdiction and imposed a January 2004 deadline on the legislature, which passed new statutes in response to the action.