The public schools enroll 490,000 students: 63% White, 21% African American, and 11% Latino, with 61% living in poverty and 8% learning English. The State spends $9,538 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“Intelligence and virtue being the safeguards of liberty and the bulwark of a free and good government, the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education.” Ark. Const. art. 14, § 1.
“No money or property belonging to the public school fund, or to this State, for the benefit of schools or universities, shall ever be used for any other than for the respective purposes to which it belongs.” Ark. Const. art. 14, § 2.
“The General Assembly shall provide for the support of common schools by general law. In order to provide quality education, it is the goal of this state to provide a fair system for the distribution of funds. It is recognized that, in providing such a system, some funding variations may be necessary. The primary reason for allowing such variations is to allow school districts, to the extent permissible, to raise additional funds to enhance the educational system within the school district. It is further recognized that funding variations or restrictions thereon may be necessary in order to comply with, or due to, other provisions of this Constitution, the United States Constitution, state or federal laws, or court orders.” Ark. Const. art. 14, § 3 (a).
In 1983, the Arkansas Supreme Court held in Dupree v. Alma Sch. Dist. No. 30 that the State’s system of allocating funds among school districts violated the State constitution's guarantee of equal protection and its requirement that the State provide a “general, suitable, and efficient system” of education. The Court ruled that the State’s system of school funding had no "rational relationship to the educational needs of the individual districts…."
In 2002, in Lake View School District v. Huckabee, the Arkansas Supreme Court found the State school funding system to be both inadequate and inequitable, in violation of the education article and equal protection provision of the State constitution. The Court adopted the constitutional education standard established in the Kentucky case, Rose v. Council for Better Education:
The Court also held, “An adequate educational opportunity must be afforded on a substantially equal basis to all the school children of this state…with regard to curricula, facilities, and equipment.” (Lakeview IV)
The Legislature brought the funding system into constitutional compliance, but by 2005 had failed to abide by its own remedy. After the Legislature took further steps to comply with the constitutional mandate, the Court ended the case in 2007.