Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What now on school choice

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 6:57 AM

Attorneys for the plaintiffs who won a decision striking down a strict racial test on school district transfers offered a modest interim proposal yesterday — act like they'd won the case entirely and let school transfers proceed without any consideration of race and potential resegregation.

I'm guessing Judge Robert Dawson won't bite on that. He'll likely stay his ruling, but it's hard to imagine he'll let plaintiffs pretend like they won entirely the right for unlimited transfers. He's said the racial rule was inextricably bound up in a statute aimed at addressing the state's historical burden to correct segregative practices. He declined to give the plaintiffs approval to transfer from Malvern to the almost all-white Magnet Cove school district. He's called for work on a more nuanced state approach to school transfers.

If all existing transfers are held invalid, districts who've given up students in the past are worried about staffing up for a return of those students. Districts staffed up for the past transfers worry about having to lay off unneeded teachers.

The obvious short-term solution — the fairest one — is to allow students now participating in the transfer plan to continue, but not to allow new transfer applications. The judge might also allow new transfers approved under old guidelines.

In the end, the legislature will have to come up with a new plan. You'll see here that the Republican leadership wants unfettered transfers for any reason. What that will mean is a mass exodus of white students from districts with high minority enrollments, just as witnesses testified. The U.S. Supreme Court's rollback of desegregation law means race can no longer be a sole determinant of choice laws. But they haven't yet said that segregation can't be considered in any fashion, particularly in districts with histories of discrimination. Financial health, academic performance and economic background of students all are factors on which the state might try to shape a rational transfer policy. Though, inevitably, these are issues that wind up related to race.

Another way to jump this hurdle would be to go to countywide school districts and thus eliminate some of the weird territorial issues that develop and encourage transfers for racial reasons. That won't happen, of course.

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