Columns » John Brummett

One master's report


If only I'd been named a "master" to propound officially on whether the state legislature was up to court-ordered snuff in the public school reform it adopted over the last two contentious months. This would be my report to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Dear Your Honors: I'm sure the seven of you could have done better. Two or three of you, anyway. But here you had 135 garden-variety men and women, all of them possessed of their own ideas, most of them raw rookies in the legislative game thanks to this nonsense of term limits, nearly all of them products of the very education system the seven of you had the temerity to call illegally substandard. You seven don't always get together on things. How would you like it if there were 135 of you? How would you like it if your meetings were in public? It's easier to appear civil and dignified when you do your real work in private and wear robes in public. These raw rookies descended on Little Rock staring down hard at this deadline you supposedly gave them, but which you didn't seem to enforce. You know what I'm talking about. You surrendered the official control of the case. But then you presumed to take it back by changing the rules. Might I suggest that you made the very kind of mistake you apparently don't want to let slide if I find that the legislature has made it? Sometimes people talk about courts like they transcend human frailty. But you and I know better. You ought to get a load of Clarence Thomas. Gov. Mike Huckabee played his little brinksmanship game to try to hamstring the legislators' options by refusing to convene them until the 11th hour. And all they had to do by your audacious command was design a better and equitable education system from Dermott to Bella Vista. That is an intergalactic trip. You don't need legislators. You need Captain Kirk. The governor made the debate all about consolidation, which was nowhere in your order. And when he didn't get his way, he went AWOL. So, let's review the scene: You guys in the Supreme Court were breathing down their necks. The governor had bailed. And they were a bunch of legislative rookies with home folks to consider. Justice Brown: You know about legislative rookies. You once worked for one, name of Jim Guy Tucker. I remember what Jim Guy told me when I interviewed him during his run for Congress in 1976. (I was but a child.) He said, "I have no illusions about what a freshman congressman can do." Justice Corbin: You know about tending more to the folks back home than the state in general. That's pretty much the kind of state representative you were back in the '70s, wasn't it? And Justice Thornton: No one knows better than you about pressure on legislators. Remember that episode in Congress in 1993 when you wimped out at the last minute and didn't vote for Bill Clinton's deficit reduction plan? Anyway, here's my report: The legislature did all right. This distribution formula is much better - progressive, in fact. The pre-kindergarten program will help. This limited consolidation, while not an issue in the case, is a step in the right direction, especially when you combine it with that Omnibus Education Act that authorizes the state to close schools. The accountability measure will allow us to track a kid year to year. They're going to take an inventory of all school buildings, which would seem wise before they start trying to fix them. The only possible failing is that they didn't raise $800 million, but $400 million. So, if y'all want to tell them to come back and raise another $400 million, then by all means be my guest. Enjoin the treasury if you wish. The courts get paid anyway. I assume that also goes for their "masters." Right? Right?

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