Small, Rural School District Sues State

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CN) – A rural school district in the Ozarks sued Arkansas, claiming the state underfunds small, remote schools and then “aggressively” closes them, without considering whether that denies rural students “a substantially equal opportunity for an adequate education.” The district says the state’s plan would force its 360 students to spend 4 hours a day on school buses.

     The Deer-Mount Judea School District also challenged the constitutionality of the state’s school funding system.
     “The state knows that small, remote schools are underfunded,” the school district claims, “but rather than providing them the additional funding they need, the State has aggressively sought to close them without considering whether their students will be denied a substantially equal opportunity for an adequate education due to excessive transportation time.”
     The district says the state’s plan to consolidate it with another school district shows that the state is “flying blind:” the consolidation will force 360 students to spend nearly 4 hours a day traveling to and from school.
     The district asks the Pulaski County Court to issue an injunction to stop the state from closing or consolidating small rural schools until state law is changed.
     The district says the state should have addressed these issues already, due to an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling in Lake View v. Huckabee (2005). In that case, the court ruled that lawmakers must evaluate “whether a substantially equal opportunity for an adequate education is being afforded to Arkansas students”.
     Instead of complying with the court’s mandate to “establish education as the state’s first funding priority” and thus keep rural schools open, lawmakers have based education funding on “what funds were available – not by what was needed,” the district says.
     The result is evidenced by the fact Arkansas received a grade of “F” for student achievement in Education Week’s Quality Counts 2010.
     According to that report, less than one-third of Arkansas fourth- and eighth-graders scored “proficient” or better in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2009. Twelfth-graders did even worse, with just 15 percent proficient or better in math and 30 percent proficient or better in reading.
     In addition to injunctive relief, the district wants the court to order a 45-minute maximum one-way bus ride and to prohibit closure of small, remote schools.
     The district is represented by Clay Fendley of Little Rock, and Bill Lewellen of Marianna, Ark.

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