The Arkansas Supreme Court has revived part of a lawsuit challenging the way the state funds its public schools.
On Thursday, justices reversed part of a Pulaski County judge's decision dismissing a lawsuit by the Deer/Mount Judea School District that claims the state has not complied with laws that were enacted to end the long-running Lake View School funding case six years ago. The case now goes back to the lower court.
The court ruled that Deer/Mount Judea raised new issues that have emerged since the Lake View case ended in 2007. The lawsuit included complaints that the state has not properly studied what constitutes an adequate education, cost of living adjustments and transportation funding.
The high court agreed with the state that several other issues had been addressed in previous school-funding cases.
"In summary, (Deer/Mount Judea) contends that several acts or omissions of the General Assembly violate the Arkansas Constutition," the court's opinion said. "We treat these allegations as true. Some of the acts or omissions complained of occurred after we had released the mandate in Lake View 2007. The circuit court abused its discretion in dismissing these claims."
The 360-student Deer/Mount Judea district argued that the state has failed to address inequities between schools across Arkansas on transportation funding and average teacher salaries, citing a $26,000 gap between the lowest and highest average pay for teachers in the state. It also argues that the state hasn't adequately funded isolated school districts.
The tiny Lake View School District sued the state in 1992, challenging the constitutionality of a system that allowed wide funding disparities between wealthy districts and poor ones. The case ended in 2007 after reforms were enacted and justices ruled that Arkansas had funded its schools adequately.
The reforms that the district says the state hasn't lived up to include the requirement that Arkansas base its per-student funding level on a legislative panel's study of what it costs to provide an adequate education. During oral arguments, the state said that allowing the lawsuit to move forward would lead to "continual litigation" over the same issues addressed in the Lake View ruling and could prompt other schools to file claims as a way to negotiate more money from the state Legislature.