Light Company and the other utilities had so much influence in the legislature. Instead, I had to be content to appoint commissioners I thought would protect the people and the state’s economy without bankrupting the utilities. I proposed and passed some modest educational improvements, including a requirement that all districts offer kindergarten, and a law allowing students to take up to half their courses in a nearby school district if the home district didn’t offer them. That was important because so
many of the smaller districts didn’t offer chemistry, physics, advanced math, or foreign
awaiting a state supreme court decision on a
case claiming that, because our school financing system was so unequal in its distribution of
required to meet only sixty days every two years. Though the legislators usually stayed a few
In April, the National Commission on Excellence in Education, appointed by U.S. Secretary
nguage, 164 no advanced math, 126 no chemistry. In the 1983 regular session, I
asked the legislature to authorize a fifteen-member Education Standards Committee to make
ration in my
first term. She was very good at running committees, she cared about children, and by naming
languages. I also asked the legislature to raise cigarette, beer, and liquor taxes and to allocate more than half of our projected new revenues to the schools. That was all we could do, given our financial condition and the fact that we were
funds, it was unconstitutional. If the court ruled for the plaintiffs, as I hoped it would, I wouldhave to call a special session of the legislature to deal with it. As it was, the legislature
days longer, something often came up after they had gone home that required me to call them back. The supreme court decision would do that. Such a session would be difficult, but it might give us the chance to do something really big for education, because the legislature, the public, and the press could focus on it in a way that was impossible in a regular session,so many other things were going on.
of Education Terrel Bell, issued a stunning report entitledA Nation at Risk. The report notedthat on nineteen different international tests, American students were never first or secwere last seven times; 23 million American adults, 13 percent of all seventeen-year-olds, up to 40 percent of minority students were functionally illiterate; high school students’ average performance on standardized tests was lower than it had been twenty-six yeaearlier, whenSputnik was launched; scores on the principal college entrance exam, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, had been declining since 1962; one-quarter of all college math courses were remedial—that is, teaching what should have been learned in high school or earlier; business and military leaders reported having to spend increasing amounts of money on remedial education; and finally, these declines in education were occurring at a time whthe demand for highly skilled workers was increasing sharply. Just five years earlier, Dr. Kern Alexander had said children would be better off in the schooof almost any state other than Arkansas. If our whole nation was at risk, we had to be on life support. In 1983, 265 of our high schools offered no advanced biology, 217 no physics,no foreign la
specific recommendations on new curriculum standards. I put together an able and fully representative committee and asked Hillary to chair it. She had done an excellent job chathe Rural Health Committee and the board of the national Legal Services Corpo
her I was sending a strong signal about how important education was to me. My reasoning was sound, but it was still a risky move, because every significant change we proposed wsure to rattle some interest group. In May, the state supreme court declared our school financing sys-tem unconstitutional. We had to write a new aid formula, then fund it. There were only two alternatives: take money away from the wealthiest and smallest districts and give it to the poorest and fastest-growing