Once Gov. Huckabee finishes baiting the courts for the right-wing gallery, he can spend days on end doing a passable imitation of a good Democrat. Maybe it is in service of his presidential ambitions, in which case he finally gives political expediency a good name.
This week, the fate of the public schools, in the short term, seems to rest in the governor’s hands. He is going to act like a real governor and try to wring some compassion from flint-hearted lawmakers of his own party and get them to vote for a modest school-aid package crafted by Democratic leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives. After first telling legislators he wanted them to enact laws that would tell the Arkansas Supreme Court to butt out of school affairs, which he said were purely his and the legislature’s prerogatives, Huckabee pronounced the sums and methods of raising school aid that were developed by education committees to be progressive and just. He doesn’t want to see the state defy the Supreme Court order to produce a suitable school program for every child.
If he cannot turn around a few senators this week, the cause would seem to be lost. He will not call a special session, he says, unless there is a clear consensus in both houses for legislation. House leaders say they have a majority for the financing package, but the Senate is badly split. A few East Arkansas senators, notably Jim Luker of Wynne and Steve Bryles of Blytheville, argue for even more money to close the gap between rich and poor schools and the even larger chasm between the salaries of their teachers. They are persuasive and the Supreme Court order reinforces their case. It implied that the state should provide cost-of-living adjustments not merely in foundation aid but in all categorical programs, including those addressing the needs of poor kids, and that poor schools that were losing enrollment (and state aid) needed special attention to keep services up to par.
Others — Republicans mainly, but not altogether — want to give the schools much less, if anything at all. This week, some were still arguing pointlessly with the court decision that found the schools inadequately funded for the current budget cycle.
Every one of them ran as a champion of education and they are printing campaign cards this week saying they are friends of education. There won’t be room for elaboration.
It is not a matter of economy, as they will argue, but of choices. The state fisc is accumulating vast surpluses, which if they do not go for the kids will be banked for pork projects to ensure re-election.
Kids don’t vote, you see, but developers do.