Thursday, January 29, 2015

John Walker: Not ready to talk lawsuits

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2015 at 1:01 PM

click to enlarge JOHN WALKER: After yesterday's state Board decision to take control of the Little Rock School District. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • JOHN WALKER: After yesterday's state Board decision to take control of the Little Rock School District.

State Rep. John Walker
of Little Rock said he had no comment for now about the possibility of suing over the state takeover of the Little Rock School District, a move the veteran civil rights lawyer opposed.

Walker had spoken in advance of the meeting about being prepared to sue if the state moved to dismiss the school board and assume operation of the district. But he said today, "I don't want to make a kneejerk reaction."

In an extended conversation, he repeated assertions that the state's action had been arbitrary, especially compared with a lack of similar action around the state where schools have failed to lift minority children to proficiency on test scores.

Walker said he was heartened in one respect. In litigating desegregation cases over the years, Walker said the state had taken the position it was not responsible for student outcomes, only for providing sufficient resources. "Now, apparently, the state takes the position that outcomes are a priority and it's the fault of those who have responsibility for securing those outcomes."

He said he would take leading takeover advocates, Board members Diane Zook and Vicki Saviers, at their word that "interest in underachieving students is their primary concern."

He went on: "The state is now in a position to do something it has never wanted to do — educate black and Hispanic children so that they will be able to achieve at a proficient level." He said Little Rock, too, had failed in that over the years.

Walker was skeptical of the state's ability to deliver. "It doesn't have the capacity or the leadership or the plans to do it. Nor, really, the will. If they do, why hasn't it been done since the Lakeview [school finance] decision." He said the state Board of Education had never chided a director, back to Ken James, for failing to materially improve achievement in poor, black districts.

He said the recent attention to Little Rock arose "because of long-standing hatred by various forces in the state against Little Rock and its dominant posture and because Little Rock challenged the state" in the desegregation lawsuit. "Now Little Rock is having to pay the price for that."

He said he'd continue to gather information about what led the board to its decision, including internal writings, and to seek documents that demonstrate the state's plans for improvement.

Meanwhile, he said the state also had large issues to face in the legislature where he serves, including impoverished communities and critical services for them, including a large shortfall in funding for adequate public defenders. He said roughly an additional $10 million is needed to have a sufficient public defender system.

Walker predicted, too, an effort in this session of the legislature to pass a bill to require election of state Board of Education members from single-member districts. He said the takeover of the Little Rock district would be former Gov. Mike Beebe's legacy, since he appointed all the current members of the state board. He said he believed Beebe was influential in the board's decision yesterday.

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