State Should Use Surplus For Improving Schools (Editorial)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 57 views 

The Academic Facilities Oversight Committee, a joint committee with members from the House and the Senate, after studying projects sent in by school districts all over the state, says the Legislature should devote more than half the projected $844 million surplus to upgrade the state’s public school facilities.
The panel recommended taking $456 million to meet the court-ordered requirements of improving the school facilities through 2011.
That’s in line with what Gov. Mike Beebe was expecting it would cost to comply with the state Supreme Court mandate to make the state’s schools more equal in funding and facilities. Legislators, too, seemed to be expecting the high bill to put Arkansas’ schools, both the wealthy and the poor, on an equal footing.
The total amount of money to bring the schools up to par is estimated at $1.4 billion, but the state’s share is about $631 million. The other $175 million would come from general revenue in the next two legislative sessions plus $35 million left over from the 2006 special session.
The question now turns to locking in the $456 million from the surplus, whether to set it aside specifically for schools or put it in a contingency fund, as suggested by Senate President Pro Tem Jack Critcher, D-Batesville, that could be used for other purposes if the schools are unable to spend it in the next biennium.
We join the governor, Richard Weiss, the director of the state Department of Finance & Administration, and House Speaker Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, in advocating that it be dedicated solely to schools. That Lake View case is still before the court, and lack of funding for facilities in the past is a major reason. This is one-time money and it should be earmarked to help the state comply with the mandate.
Yes, it’s a big price tag and the state will surely face other demands. Some of that projected surplus has already been spoken for and others want their share. And there are always those unexpected things that pop up, just like at home.
But education must take priority. Arkansas must travel a long road before schools will have what can be called equal facilities.