History in the Making (Editorial)

by Arkansas Business Editors  on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014 12:00 am  

U.S. District Judge Price Marshall last week approved a settlement that will end the state of Arkansas’ legal obligation to make extra payments to the three school districts in Pulaski County in order to facilitate desegregation.

The legal quagmire that started in 1957 hasn’t really ended — the Pulaski County Special School District still has some work to do in order to be declared fully “unitary” — but the end of the state’s role in paying for past sins is significant. Beginning in the fall of 2018, Little Rock, North Little Rock and PCSSD will have to figure out how to do the right thing for all their students with the standard combination of state and local dollars. Just like every other school district in the state.

The settlement that had been in place for the past 25 years has transferred nearly $1 billion extra dollars to the three districts, and the end result is not what anyone hoped. The gap between black and white performance on standardized tests “is the same width now as it was 10, 20 years ago,” John Walker, the longtime attorney for African-American plaintiffs, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Judge Marshall also approved the counterintuitive proposal to allow Jacksonville to carve its own school district out of the PCSSD. This is a reversal of the very positive trend toward school consolidation in Arkansas, which has undoubtedly wasted even more money keeping alive tiny, inefficient school districts than it spent on the Pulaski County desegregation aid. But Jacksonville could create a sizable district, and one that is racially diverse. Much has changed since 1989, when dividing Pulaski County into two districts rather than three, one on either side of the Arkansas River, was a popular idea.

It’s all historic and promising. And perhaps, just perhaps, this new development will serve to encourage renewed public support for the districts whose job of educating our children is harder, yet more important, than ever.



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