Judge OKs Deal Ending Arkansas Desegregation Aid

by Kelly P. Kissel, The Associated Press  on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014 8:25 am  

Little Rock was the scene of the nation's first major desegregation battle when President Dwight Eisenhower used federal troops to escort nine black schoolchildren into Central High School, the city system's flagship school.

LITTLE ROCK - Arkansas can stop making payments in one of the nation's most historic desegregation efforts, a judge has ruled, but he cautioned work remains to ensure students in the Little Rock area receive a proper education.

The state has made more than $1 billion in payments to three Little Rock-area school districts since 1989 to aid desegregation efforts. Under the deal approved Monday by U.S. District Judge Price Marshall, those payments will end in four years, even though one of the districts still hasn't been declared desegregated.

"I think this is a day we can write in the book and draw a circle around and remember that we did something important," Marshall said. He said his objective was to ensure the agreement among lawyers for the state, the districts and black schoolchildren was fair, reasonable and adequate.

"There comes a time ... where things should stop and things should go in the book," Marshall said. "This is a fair and appropriate place to have a stop."

What Do You Think? Take our poll: Do you agree with the judge's decision to OK the deal?

Little Rock was the scene of the nation's first major desegregation battle in 1957 when President Dwight Eisenhower used federal troops to escort nine black schoolchildren into Central High School, the city system's flagship school. Court cases involving desegregation have been in place most years since then.

The case settled Monday stemmed from a 1982 lawsuit when the Little Rock district said policies from the state and the North Little Rock and Pulaski County districts left all schools countywide with a racial imbalance. Under a 1989 settlement, Arkansas agreed to give the districts more money, but the funding never ended.

Federal judges have declared the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts essentially desegregated, or unitary, but have withheld that designation for the Pulaski County Special School District, which surrounds the city districts. The districts have a combined 49,000 students.

A main shortcoming in Pulaski County is its outdated facilities; the district will remain subject to the court.

State payments to the other districts have remained in place to fund magnet schools and programs in which students could transfer from districts where they were in the majority to where they'd be in the minority.

The payments, which total nearly $70 million a year, will continue for four years. Funds distributed in the final year must be dedicated to improving facilities.

"We've been under this cloud for three decades, so now we know the end ... All the districts involved have been working toward this day," state Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. Johnny Key said. "I think they can celebrate, I think the state can celebrate and we just have to remain diligent going forward that we continue working regardless of the racial components and breakdowns of the districts.

 

 

Please read our comments policy before commenting.