Lawmakers debate separate education accountability agency

(August 6, 2003) - (Little Rock-AP) -- Some legislators say the state needs an independent agency to make sure schools meet academic standards. But Ray Simon, head of the Arkansas Department of Education, says taking that function away from his department would create instead of solve problems. Simon says he favors reorganizing the Education Department, but accountability should remain under the agency's control since the agency both assists school districts and enforces rules. Some legislators have advocated removing accountability from the department's duties and putting it under a separate agency or board that could be under legislative control. The state Supreme Court has declared Arkansas' public school system unconstitutional and given legislators until year's end to find solutions. Among the issues in dispute is how to best structure the education department.