A divided Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled in a school district funding case that could throw the landmark Lake View decision out the window and roil public education funding in Arkansas. On Thursday, Justice Paul Danielson wrote for the 4-3 majority opinion that a case (Kimbrell v. McCleskey) involving the collection of property taxes in excess of state requirements for school funding had been improperly administered in accordance with the state constitution.

The crux of the complaint, brought by representatives from the Eureka Springs and Fountain Lake school districts, was that additional monies collected through property taxes above a state minimum for school districts should not be redistributed to other school districts, but should be kept in the district from which it was collected. Three justices disagreed, writing that "the state’s carefully crafted constitutional system of state-funded public education is obliterated by the majority’s decision."

$7 million expansion, 120 new jobs pegged for Fort Smith

Walther Arms Inc. announced its U.S. operations will locate at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith. Walther Arms will share a campus and business resources with Umarex USA in Fort Smith, which Thursday announced it will expand its manufacturing operations to include components of both airguns and firearms.

Combined, the companies plan to invest more than $7 million toward expanding the facility and operations over the next five years. The expanding facility will serve as corporate headquarters for both Walther and Umarex in North America. With the expansion, management hopes to create from 70 to 120 new jobs over the next five years.

Study shows progress, need for bigger knowledge-based jobs push

A new study of the state’s recent efforts to push forward with developing a more diversified knowledge-based work force shows progress being made but key investments still needed for greater success.

The Battelle study, conducted by the nonprofit Battelle Institute for the Arkansas Research Alliance, highlighted economic gains made since 2008 through a concentrated effort of government and business leaders in Arkansas.

The report noted:

—135 emerging knowledge economy companies, employing 1,259 workers in Arkansas, have participated in the state’s knowledge-based economy efforts since 2008.

—Workers average over $70,000 a year, more than double the $34,014 average annual wage of the private sector in Arkansas.

—Knowledge-based economy initiatives focused on research have received $61.2 million in state funding from 2008 to 2011 and leveraged an additional $191.8 million in non-state sources to further support their research activities.

Aerospace alliance formed to push growth in Arkansas

The formation of the Arkansas Aerospace Alliance, a trade association to support and promote the growth of the aerospace and aviation industry in the state, has been launched. The purpose of the Alliance is to strengthen and expand the state’s aerospace and aviation industry, which employs approximately 9,000 Arkansans and accounts for annual exports of more then $1.67 billion.

The goal of the alliance is to train the state’s current and future aerospace work force, to be a strong resource to existing industry, to promote Arkansas’s workforce to the world and to attract new aerospace companies to the state.

Arkansas home sales stop slide, improve in October

Combined home sales in Arkansas’ largest markets were up nearly 6 percent in October, ending four consecutive months of declines and showing huge gains in home prices. The average home sales price was up nearly 8 percent for the month. Some 1,936 homes sold during October, according to the Arkansas Realtors Association Housing Market Report. Total valuations for homes sold during October were up more than 14 percent from a year ago.

Arkansas per capita incomes rise in 2011

All eight of the metro areas in or connected to Arkansas saw per capital personal income gains during 2011, with Jonesboro seeing the largest percentage gain, and the Fort Smith region posting the lowest percentage gain. The numbers, from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, had the Central Arkansas metro area with the highest per capita income at $39,899, and Pine Bluff the lowest at $30,866. For the state as a whole, the BEA reported that Arkansas’ per capita income was $33,740 in 2011, about 81 percent of the U.S. average of $41,560.

Lawmakers contemplate lottery changes as revenue declines

The legislative oversight committee for the state lottery learned last week that funds could be depleted by 2014 if changes aren’t made to the eligibility or payout of scholarship funds.

Legislators heard from Shane Broadway, interim director of the state Department of Higher Education, and Bishop Woosley, director of the state lottery, regarding lagging sales and rising requests. Broadway told the legislative oversight committee on the lottery that if the department continues awarding scholarships in the current amounts it is projected to run out of funds in February 2014.

Murphy Foundation commits $5 million to El Dorado effort

The Murphy Foundation has committed $5 million to support El Dorado Festival and Events Inc. The foundation is an El Dorado based non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life primarily through strategic support of educational and cultural programs. EFEI was founded to create, maintain and promote a local art collective and district that, once completed, will bring more than 250 performances a year from more than 35 events each year.

"The Murphy Foundation believes that a solid business plan is the key to success," said Madison Murphy, president of The Murphy Foundation. "El Dorado Festival and Events, Inc. has provided a road map, backed by research and key demographic data, that will foster this culture of Southern arts and, in turn, create a tremendous opportunity for El Dorado and the region."