REL 2002 Policy Forum
Arkansas Policy Forum on Education Finance

November 18, 2002
Little Rock, AR


Achieving a General, Suitable, and Efficient Education in Arkansas
Dr. Laurence O. Picus, Professor and Director of the Center for Research in Education Finance at the University of Southern California

Dr. Picus opened his presentation with Judge Kilgore’s opinion on the Lake View v. Huckabee case stating that school funding in Arkansas is inequitable and inadequate. To help participants consider the court’s assessment, Dr. Picus explained that three requirements must be met in order to achieve equality: substantial uniformity, substantial equality of financial resources, and substantial equal educational opportunities for all students. He stressed that equality is more complex than providing the same amount of money to educate each child.

Judge Kilgore proposed three ways that the state could ensure educational equity. The first was to embody legitimate standards for student performance, and the state is complying with this requirement through accountability and accreditation standards. The second was to provide a method for accountability to ensure standards are met, which is also addressed partially through the existing accountability system. However, the state lacks a financial accountability system. The third requirement, to provide and allocate sufficient resources to deliver the standards, presents a challenge to policymakers due to the lack of resources for education and difficulty in determining a sufficient level of resources.

Dr. Picus presented three ways of defining equity and explained that the state partially addressed equity through its foundation funding program. A challenge remains, however, in the provision of equitable facilities and other resources. Dr. Picus also explained adequacy, which involves providing enough resources so students can perform at expected levels as defined and assessed through the state accountability system. Analysis tools can help determine an adequate level of resources, including cost functions, successful district/school models, professional judgment, and costing whole school reform.

Dr. Picus concluded with some concerns for state policymakers in defining and addressing adequacy:

  • Policymakers must carefully decide how proscriptive an adequacy funding model should be and what flexibility needs to be built into its implementation. They must consider possible results of expecting schools and districts to manage and allocate resources based on a state-designed model versus allowing them to decide their own spending priorities, given an adequate level of funding.
  • An effective adequacy funding model needs to be simple, transparent, and easily understood.
  • An adequacy funding model can be based on expected costs of services or products or on how much schools and districts actually spend on services and products, depending on the state’s goal.
  • When implementing a new adequacy funding model, its effect on allocations to specific schools or spending areas are important to consider, but the model’s success should be based on the total picture of improving the overall quality of education in Arkansas.

Powerpoint Presentations:

Overview of Education Finance Litigation
(full transcript - PDF 240k)
Tristan D. Greene, Special Assistant to the Director, Arkansas State Department of Education

Mr. Greene provided participants with an update on education finance litigation in Arkansas. He opened his presentation with Judge Kilgore’s interpretation that education is a fundamental right and thus it has greater protections under the constitution. He also summarized the judge’s ruling into six main points:

  1. In the court's view competent, motivated teachers are the most essential element of an adequate system; therefore Judge Kilgore orders both higher and substantially equivalent salaries across the state.
  2. The opinion finds curriculum disparities unacceptable. Thus, Judge Kilgore requires substantially equivalent curricula to be offered throughout the state.
  3. The state is required to "form some adequate remedy that allows every school district to be on an equal footing in regard to facilities, equipment, supplies, etc." Anything short will offend both the Education Clause and the Equal Protection Clauses of the Arkansas Constitution.
  4. A financial adequacy study to determine the cost of education must be performed.
  5. Judge Kilgore notes that a child entering kindergarten lagging behind his peers is at substantial risk of failure. Thus, the state will be required to create and maintain a preschool program that will allow children "to compete academically with their peers."
  6. The order finds that expenditures are the correct measure to include in the calculation of equity statistics. However, the expenditure data reported to and maintained by the state is untimely and inaccurate. Thus, the state will be required to "take necessary steps to effect a more accurate accounting of expenditures."

Although the Arkansas Supreme Court did not issue a ruling on the Lake View case until after this meeting, Mr. Greene was able to review the reform measures drafted to address the inadequacies identified by the trial court. All of the reform proposals addressed teacher salaries and early childhood education, and most addressed curriculum needs and accountability. Higher salaries were proposed, however, the disparity of salary levels in the state was not widely addressed. Also, a core curriculum was addressed, but electives were not considered in the proposals. Funding for facilities is a concern of the courts and a separate study needs to be conducted before reforms can be decided.

Arkansas Education Finance Priorities and Challenges
Group Discussions

Participants met in small groups to discuss current education finance issues and respond to three discussion questions:

  1. What are the top priority issues that state policymakers must address in response to concerns regarding adequacy in Arkansas’ education system?
  2. What barriers, challenges, and potential problems do policymakers face in addressing the priority issues?
  3. What information needs do policymakers have with regard to the priorities? What unanswered questions exist around the issues?

The top priority issues that discussants identified were recruitment and retention of quality teachers and instructional leaders through increased salaries and other means, adequacy, the collection and use of appropriate financial data, and early childhood education. Barriers that policymakers face in addressing the issues include lack of additional funds for education, the conflict between state and local control, and political posturing around the issues. Information needs include a common definition of adequacy; more data for the school, district, and state levels; a financial accountability system; greater use of available information; and greater sharing of ideas in the state.

Financing Arkansas Education Reform: Solutions and New Directions
Moderated Discussion

Participants discussed the definition of adequacy, considered what it means to provide a high level of education, and explored whether 100 percent of students should be expected to achieve that level. In Arkansas, state accountability requirements do provide defined performance standards, and grade-level benchmark exams measure success. However, there was concern that student performance in some schools and districts depends more on management issues or expectations of parents and community than on the level of resources. Dr. Picus suggested that performance expectations should include all students, however, progress toward that goal should be built over time and the state should develop one-year, five-year, and 10-year goals for achieving state performance expectations.

Participants then discussed how an adequacy study would help policymakers. Such a study would help determine the cost of educating a child and uncover how much additional funding should be added for special needs and circumstances of individual children. To complete a successful adequacy study, policymakers will need access to reliable data and the financial support of the legislature or some other funding entity.

Participants offered their thoughts on next steps for improving adequacy and equality in education.

  • What adequacy means for the state is still not clear and some participants felt that agreement on a common definition should be the first step.
  • Additional information and expertise from national experts and/or research-based models would help Arkansas consider new directions for school funding. SEDL can help connect state policymakers with current research on this issue and with national experts like Dr. Picus.
  • Education finance reform will require additional funds. Concern was expressed that this year will be a difficult time to increase state revenues through taxation or other means.
  • A number of participants felt that taking action on education finance reform should wait until the Arkansas Supreme Court decision is released.
  • The role of the business community in supporting education reform was discussed. The business community may be a potential source of grassroots support, public relations, and funding for reform efforts. Businesses can also help direct reform by defining the skills and competencies needed for a highly skilled workforce in the state.
  • Discussions on the topic of education finance reform that include a broad array of stakeholders are valuable and should be continued. Participants suggested continuing to hold meetings for this purpose or to create a committee with representatives from key education entities to discuss the needs of the state.

Summary of the Arkansas Supreme Court Ruling on Lake View v. Huckabee

On November 21, 2002, the Arkansas Supreme Court released its opinion in the Lake View v. Huckabee court case that challenged the equity and adequacy of school funding in the state. For the most part, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court order and agreed that the state’s education funding system is unequal and inadequate under the state constitution.

The Supreme Court considered Judge Collins Kilgore’s determination that education was a fundamental right requiring strict scrutiny of the General Assembly’s actions. Instead of agreeing with that opinion, the Court deferred on the issue. The court did emphasize that the state “has an absolute duty under our constitution to provide an adequate education to each school child.” Lake View School District v. Huckabee ___ Ark. ____, ___ S.W.3d ____ (2002) (November 11 Slip Op. at 37). Secondly, the Supreme Court made it clear that “[i]t is the State’s responsibility to provide an equal education to its school children . . .. Deference to local control is not an option for the State when inequality prevails…” Id. at 46.

The court concluded that actual expenditures, not revenues, should be used to test for equality among school districts. Based on this decision and the opinion that educational resources (e.g., teachers, equipment, facilities) do impact student performance, the court decided that there are serious disparities in the quality of education that students in Arkansas receive. Related to inequities in the state, the court affirmed Judge Kilgore’s opinion on the need for higher salaries for teachers and need to address the disparities among teacher salaries.

The court concluded that an adequacy study “is necessary and must be conducted,” with reference to a 1995 legislative mandate for such a study that was never conducted. Id. at 20 (citing the trial court order). The state constitution defines adequacy as a general, suitable and efficient system of public schools. Legislative language further defines this statement to include such requirements as assuring that all students are able to demonstrate a minimum level of competence in core academic areas and preparation for lifelong career opportunities. The state must define educational adequacy, assess whether all students are afforded substantial equal educational opportunity under that definition, and know how revenues are being spent to determine whether equal educational opportunities are provided.

Diverging from the trial court decision, the Supreme Court decided that early-childhood education was not mandated by the constitution. Regarding the use of excess debt service millages to satisfy the constitutional requirement of a uniform tax rate, the court ruled that the state cannot include those millages because the uniform rate must be levied solely for maintenance and operations purposes, disagreeing with Judge Kilgore’s decision. In addition to the substantive issues, the Supreme Court reduced the monetary amount of the attorneys’ fees award.

The Supreme Court has stayed the issuance of the mandate in Lake View until January 1, 2004, in order to give the state an opportunity to implement appropriate changes.