Masters grapple with $2.7 billion question

(March 11, 2004) - (Little Rock-AP) -- Special masters evaluating state efforts to make court-ordered public education reforms plan a second straight day of hearings today. Lawyers who successfully challenged Arkansas' school funding system are arguing that the state did NOT do enough to overhaul schools. Yesterday, a school finance expert testified that Arkansas' new two-point-seven billion dollar school-funding formula will not achieve equity in school funding - something the state Supreme Court demanded when it declared the public school system unconstitutional. Interim state Education Director Tom Courtway, meanwhile, testified that nearly 400 million dollars in new taxes will be used to beef up preschool programs, as well as teachers' pay, extra help for poor students and programs for those in special education. Courtway also noted legislative commitments to continually evaluate school improvement measures and a commitment to make education the state's paramount budget priority.