The Arkansas Supreme Court today reversed a lower court and said a lawsuit by the remote Deer-Mount Judea School District should not be dismissed. The tiny mountain school district contends that the state funding formula is inadequate and unequal, particular when it comes to a remote district where students must travel long distances.
The Supreme Court accepted the district’s argument that the legislature has a continuing responsibility to review compliance with the Lakeview school funding case and that the district was entitled to present a case that the legislature’s reviews of compliance had been inadequate.
The court said the school district could argue specifically that the state made spending increases based on available funds, not the amount needed for an equal and adequate education; that the state had no rational basis for how it computed transportation funding; that the state had provided inadequate support for construction. The court did say that Deer-Mount Judea’s argument about isolated school funding had already been addressed by the Supreme Court and that it was precluded from challenging the use of money given to school districts based on the number of poor students (as measure by subsidized lunch enrollment). It also rejected a challenge to state implementation of professional development.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Karen Baker, said it must treat the undecided questions as true for purposes of keeping the suit alive and the lower court had abused discretion by dismissing them. The court, however, did uphold Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s dismissal of a substantial amendment complaint with voluminous new allegations.
Justice Donald Corbin dissented on some procedural issues, though generally agreed with the holding that there were some issues the school district could litigate.
The ruling doesn’t signal a reopening of Lakeview. Yet.