LITTLE ROCK — Any reduction in state funding for public schools would be a step back from Arkansas' commitment to students, state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell told the legislative Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday.

LITTLE ROCK — Any reduction in state funding for public schools would be a step back from Arkansas’ commitment to students, state Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell told the legislative Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday.

Kimbrell appeared before the committee on the second day of budget hearings leading up to the fiscal session that begins Feb. 13. Gov. Mike Beebe has proposed a $56.6 million increase in funding for public schools for the next fiscal year, including an increase in per-student funding from $6,144 to $6,267.

“I would be concerned we would be backing up from the commitment we’ve made to today’s children if we started saying, ‘OK, now education is not as important as it has been,’” Kimbrell told the panel.

The most important thing state government can do is ensure that young people will be able to compete in the global marketplace, he said.

Kimbrell also noted that Arkansas is legally obligated to maintain adequate funding for public schools. A long-running lawsuit over school funding was resolved in 2007 when the state Supreme Court ruled that the state had, after massive spending increases over a number of years, met the constitutional requirement of providing the means for an adequate public education.

But Kimbrell said schools have been affected by tight budgeting. He reminded the panel that in 2010 almost $80 million — none of it directly affecting classroom instruction — was cut from the budget for public schools.

“We had programs that did suffer. Some of those have been restored, some haven’t,” he said.

Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, had complained that no department of state government seemed interested in reducing its budget, even though many private businesses have had to cut back in a tough economy.

“Basically, because (state Department of Finance and Administration Director Richard) Weiss said we’re going to get more money, we’re going to spend it,” Hendren said.

DF&A is projecting a 3.5 percent increase in state revenue in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.