The Lake View School District Case: An Overview, Part 1

There aren’t many educators in this state that haven’t at least heard of the Lake View School District case, but what is that case really all about? In light of the recent Arkansas Supreme Court decision in Kimbrell v. McCleskey, which I’ll discuss in an upcoming post, I think it’s important to give a brief overview of the history of Lake View and how we got to where we are today.

The history of Lake View is long and complex, and its significance to public education in Arkansas cannot be overstated. One could write a book about all of the intricacies and details surrounding the Lake View opinions and the arguments, studies, and subsequent policy decisions made by state lawmakers and officials in order to comply with the Arkansas Supreme Court’s mandate and be released from its jurisdiction. I will not try to capture all of those complexities here, but rather, will give a very general overview throughout the next few blog posts of how Lake View began, what happened during those fifteen years of litigation, and what it all means today.

 First, where did it all begin? Lake View is not the first lawsuit that the state has faced regarding inequities in school funding. In 1983, the Arkansas Supreme Court held, in DuPree v. Alma School Dist., 279 Ark. 340, 651 S.W.2d 90 (1983), that the school funding system at that time, which relied in part on the local tax base of school districts and led to extreme discrepancies in per pupil funding among them, violated both the Equal Protection Clause and Article 14 of the Arkansas Constitution. Article 14, § 1, which has been dubbed the Education Article and remains at the heart of this discussion today, provides that “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.” The Court did two things in Dupree. First, it applied the state’s Equal Protection Clause to school funding, which had already been done in several other states at the time. Second, it determined that the Education Article places the ultimate responsibility of educating children with the state, not with local school districts. DuPree, in my opinion, dealt solely with inequities in funding. It did not dive into the actual education system, but it did set a strong precedent for the Court in Lake View to later do so.

Only nine years later, in 1992, the Lake View School District filed a lawsuit against the state alleging once more that the school funding system was unconstitutional. The trial court agreed, ruling that the school funding system violated the Education Article and Equal Protection Provision of the Arkansas Constitution, but stayed its order to give the Arkansas General Assembly a chance to correct the problem. Several amended complaints, legislative acts (some of which were later determined to be unconstitutional), trial court orders, appellate court remands, and even a constitutional amendment later, we reach the 2002 landmark decision in Lake View that has forever changed the way state policymakers view public education in Arkansas.

 

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