TOM EASTERLY NAMED
'UNSUNG HERO' OF 2017
(June 2017) Tom Easterly, a Murphy Commission Education Team volunteer who later played a role in a landmark Arkansas State Supreme Court decision has been named the Policy Foundation's 'Unsung Hero' of 2017.
Easterly, 97, was awarded the honor based on the following criteria:
· His work to address issues that focus on America’s founding principles of individual responsibility, self-government, and free markets;
· His commitment to oppose and defeat proposals contrary to these principles;
· His opposition to government over-reach in Arkansas;
· His passion for public policy and solutions to problems;
· His commitment to citizenship and his willingness to share experiences and information with other citizens about the American principles on which his activities are based.1
"Tom's commitment to citizenship and facts-based public policy is well-established," Policy Foundation Executive Director Greg Kaza said. "He's played an important role in policy victories in Arkansas in the 21st century."
Easterly, a retired State of Illinois policy analyst served on the Murphy Commission from 1996 to 1998. He worked on three education reports issued by the volunteer panel of citizens.2
Kaza recalled Easterly's "numerous telephone conversations" as Arkansas advanced Murphy Commission reforms such as charter schools, school choice and letter grades for public schools. "Tom is always seeking to share facts-based information with fellow citizens."
Easterly's commitment to citizenship led him to continue making presentations to citizen groups after his 90th birthday.3
His numerous columns and letters-to-the-editor in newspapers provided information to citizens.4 A favorite saying: "The devil is always in the details."
Easterly's public policy expertise allowed him to assist the legal team representing the Fountain Lake and Eureka Springs school districts in their successful school finance case versus the Arkansas Department of Education.
Public interest law is oftentimes overlooked by limited government proponents.
Yet the case successfully challenged a long-standing Arkansas practice that enabled redistribution and egalitarianism.
The case, originally called McCleskey, et al. v. Kimbrell, et al., began in 2010 when the Department of Education (ADE) attempted to reclaim $1,387,367 from the Fountain Lake School District and $824,916 from the Eureka Springs School District. The state argued these sums were state fund overpayments, proceeding on the assumption the Uniform Rate of Taxation (URT) levy5 was a state tax. The state argued the URT was enacted to provide revenue for the statutorily-imposed, minimum-per-student “foundation funding” guaranteed to each district. The ADE argued any URT revenue that exceeded the foundation amount could be redistributed to other districts.
The plaintiffs considered the action to be “confiscation” and filed suit against the state. The ADE responded by filing a motion to dismiss the case, which was denied. The Pulaski County Circuit Court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the districts, enjoining "the ADE from seeking repayment of “any portion of the 25-mill URT tax revenues assessed and levied by Article 14, § 3(b)(1) of the Arkansas Constitution.” Both parties appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which found for the plaintiffs on all counts,6 leading groups like the Arkansas Education Association to criticize the Court's ruling.7
Fountain Lake School Board Member Bob McCleskey explained Easterly's role as follows:
"At least partially because of his professional background as an Illinois Legislative Analyst, Tom had interests in various local government operations and particularly the local school district in which he lived. Tom was a member of the small team (4 people) who built the case against the ADE and contributed to the strategies which were pursued to overcome strong opposition by many in the State government (including Mike Beebe, the then Governor) and most of the legal community. Tom was particularly good at researching state statutes and previous court cases some of which had a direct bearing on the ultimate outcome of the case."8
Easterly's greatest interest, expressed in a recent interview, is "reaching the next generation of citizens." His work on the Murphy Commission and school finance case is a powerful reminder that one citizen can make a big difference.
1 Criteria, Vernon K. Krieble Foundation 'Unsung Hero' awards
2 The reports were: 1) "Streamlining and Cost-Saving Opportunities in Arkansas' K-12 Public Education System;" 2) "Restoring Public Education's Academic Mission in Arkansas' Public Schools...A Thirty Year $20 Billion Taxpayer Investment Yields An Unprecedented Crisis in Academic Performance;" and 3) "Restoring Public Education's Academic Mission: High Expectations, Rigorous Academic Standards & Proven Methodologies and Curriculums."
3 "Item of interest" (April 5, 2011) The Sentinel-Record (Hot Springs), p. 18. The paper reported, "Guest speaker Tom Easterly will discuss governance and speak on how "You Can Make a Difference.""
4 "Facts at issue in lawsuit" (June 27, 2012) The Sentinel-Record (Hot Springs, AR)
5 The levy is the first 25 mills on personal ad valorem property taxes.
6 Kimbrell v. McCleskey, 2012 Ark. 443, 11-1289
The following article describes the decision: http://ap.thecabin.net/pstories/state/ar/20121129/1071236294.shtml
8 McCleskey to Policy Foundation, June 10, 2017 communication.