- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An Arkansas judge on Wednesday sided with the state in a lawsuit that claimed legislators hadn’t adequately funded public schools, citing missteps in some areas but nothing that violates the state’s constitution.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza said in a memorandum opinion he couldn’t find any violations among the issues raised in the school funding suit by the Deer/Mount Judea School District. Piazza asked attorneys for the district and the state to draft an order that he’ll sign reflecting his findings.

“While the case brought by the Deer/Mt. Judea School District is a shot across the bow, it certainly does not rise to a constitutional depravation that would require judicial intervention in the General Assembly’s duty to ensure that all of Arkansas’ children receive a substantially equal education,” Piazza wrote.

In its lawsuit filed in 2010, the district claimed the Legislature hadn’t complied with the constitutional requirement to provide an adequate education for its schools in several areas, including transportation funding and teacher salaries.

Piazza wrote that there have been “missteps along the way,” including the Legislature not providing a cost-of-living adjustment for every part of its school funding formula and a decrease in professional development funding.

“But one cannot say there is not a rational basis for the legislative action which is tantamount to constitutional infringement requiring judicial intervention,” he wrote.

Arkansas enacted a number of changes to its school funding system under a long-running case that ended in 2007 when the state Supreme Court ruled it had adequately funded education. State officials said Piazza’s opinion validated those reforms.

“The state of Arkansas has a duty to educate its children,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said in a statement. “Under past Arkansas Supreme Court decisions, the General Assembly has a responsibility to provide funding for an adequate education for all children - a responsibility that the court recognized is being met.”

Clay Fendley, the district’s attorney, said he was unsure whether the district would appeal the ruling and said that decision would ultimately be up to the school board. Fendley said he was disappointed with Piazza’s findings.

“I think we did more than a shot across the bow. I thought we proved our case,” Fendley said. “I just disagree with just about everything he has in that opinion.”


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