McDaniel, Beebe Ask For School Funding Rehearing

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 3 views 

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel today filed an appellant’s petition for a rehearing in the recent case that called into question the state’s funding mechanism for schools. Gov. Mike Beebe took the unusual step of requesting permission to file an amicus curae brief along with McDaniel’s.

The attorney for the school districts has up to two weeks to respond.

In the case, Kimbrell v. McCleskey, the court ruled 4-3 on Nov. 29 that the Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake school districts should keep property tax revenues collected above the state minimum.

A majority must decide to rehear the case when the Supreme Court returns on Jan. 7. The court will return with two new justices, Cliff Hoofman and Jo Hart, who are replacing two of the dissenters. The four who voted with the majority all return, so in theory the only way the case would need to be reheard is if one of those four is questioning the original decision.

Amendment 74, passed by the voters in 1996, set a uniform rate of taxation of 25 mills for each school district for maintenance and operation. That money was to be sent to the state to be redistributed to all students so that each district has the same foundation of per-student funding. For the 2011-12 school year, that was $6,023 per student.

The Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake School Districts were unusual in that those high-property-value districts collected more than the $6,023 from that 25 mills and were required to send the excess to the state. They sued in order to keep the excess. Two other districts, South Side and Nemo Vista, are also expected to collect monies in excess of foundation funding levels in 2012-13.

At 25 mills, South Side collects $10,964.85, the attorney general’s brief says. By contrast, the Poyen school district collects $514.23 at that same rate, meaning patrons of that district would have to tax themselves at 256.71 mills in order to match South Side’s excess.

Beebe has a long history with school funding. As a state senator, he was the principal author of the resolution passed by the General Assembly in 1995 that referred what became Amendment 74 to the voters.

The governor has been outspoken in his opposition to the Nov. 29 ruling. His spokesman, Matt Decample, said in an interview that his experience with the issue led him to file the brief.

“Governor Beebe has a very unique perspective on this case and the history of this case as one of the authors of Amendment 74 and as someone who’s been dealing with the school funding issue for 30 years now. So he felt that he could add some perspective on the case and some nuance to the arguments, and so we’ve asked the court to allow him to do that, and we’ll see what they say.”