If there’s one lesson that should have been learned from the Arkansas Supreme Court’s school decisions, it is that dawdling will no longer be tolerated. Yet important members of the government remain unenlightened.
Gov. Huckabee and some legislators appear to be waffling on the need for a special legislative session to correct deficiencies in the public school system, deficiencies that, the Court said, leave the system still constitutionally inadequate, even after the improvements made by the legislators earlier this year. The court has set a deadline of Dec. 1, 2006, to correct these shortcomings. The next regular session of the legislature will not convene until January 2007. The math is fairly simple.
The setting of a deadline was reinforced by the language of the Court’s decision. Justice Robert Brown wrote for the majority:
“This court is not willing to place the issue of an adequate education on hold for the current school year and the next. To do so would simply be to ‘write off' two years of public education in Arkansas, which we refuse to do." Arkansas has written off too many years of public education already.
Attorney General Mike Beebe, who had the unpleasant chore of defending an inferior system, sees the issue clearly. He told the legislators, his clients, that there is no time for replaying and regretting. Instead, they must "Get started" complying with the court's ruling. That means, among other things, that the interim Education Committees of the House and Senate begin work as soon as possible determining what additional funding is needed. "Getting finished" by the court's deadline will require that the governor call the full legislature into session to enact the necessary changes. Nothing less.
Morality in politics
In March, the legislature defeated a bill to raise the state minimum wage. In October, Congress defeated a bill to raise the federal minimum wage. The people of Arkansas may have a chance to show that their compassion exceeds that of their elected representatives. A coalition of groups that advocate for low-income Arkansans proposes to place an amendment on the 2006 general election ballot that would raise the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.15. The federal minimum currently stands at $5.15 also. The people who are paid this meager sum – an estimated 56,000 in Arkansas actually have less purchasing power than the minimum-wage earners of 40 years ago. Many of them are adults supporting families. They are in desperate circumstances and it is within their neighbors’ power to help. Lots of people talk about “moral values” in politics. If the minimum-wage amendment wins a place on the ballot, Arkansans can vote moral values.