Big week for school choice 

Arkansas's public school system could be upended by events this week.

Wednesday, the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in the case in which a federal judge has ruled the state school choice law unconstitutional. The fractured U.S. Supreme Court ruling on desegregation cases in other states led Judge Robert Dawson to conclude the explicit racial component in Arkansas school assignment law was no longer permissible and invalidated the law. He said concern about segregation was a primary consideration in the law and couldn't be "severed," to allow free and unfettered interdistrict school transfers without consideration of race.

The case specifically contested the law's bar of transfers by white students in Malvern to a neighboring district with a higher percentage of white students.

The 8th Circuit could uphold the original law (unlikely, though arguable); uphold Dawson, which would end all school choice for the time being (likely), or uphold Dawson and sever the race component and open the door to a wild world of unfettered school choice (unlikely).

Some 15,000 students already participating in school choice hang in the immediate balance.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas legislature has begun a new session and it will consider a new school choice law that could make the court case moot. Sen. Johnny Key leads the Republican-controlled Education Committee. He favors a law that would allow unlimited transfers, except in school districts with pending desegregation cases (a relative handful). This, many school superintendents fear, would set off a race-related exodus from many districts, particularly in places like Malvern and Camden and El Dorado.

Wide-open choice would also encourage transfers for any number of other non-educational reasons — including athletics. Sports recruiting would become rampant. The Arkansas Activities Association would be powerless to stop it. There'd be larger complications. How to rationally plan enrollment every year? What would become of the intricately drawn Lakeview school funding case-inspired plan for equalizing school facilities? It would be turned on its ear.

School administrators have drafted an alternative piece of legislation, though many of them prefer no transfers from home districts at all. It would restate, in a more general way, the interest in racial diversity that drove the legislation in the first place along with transfers for educational reasons. Arkansas, after all, is a southern state that had to be dragged — by federal troops in the most famous case — to obey the Constitution on equal educational opportunity. The proposal also injects national origin as a consideration in guaranteeing a constitutionally sound system of "quality desegregated education."

Ethnic consideration could build some political support from Arkansas school districts that might fear an exodus of white students from growing Latino populations.

Race and ethnicity aside, unfettered school choice imperils many school districts — economic engines of dozens of small communities. A richer neighbor with a shinier football practice facility could drain students, too, for example.

An accumulation of these diverse reasons to oppose unlimited school transfers might be the only hope to stop momentum built by what I call the Billionaire Boys Club. Walton money primarily, but also contributions from the Hussman, Stephens and Murphy empires, has gone to create lobbying groups and elect legislators, primarily Republican, friendly to the cause of "choice."

Unlimited school transfers, charter schools (largely unregulated and unanswerable to voters) and private school vouchers are all tenets of the billionaires' faith. But if a Republican legislator who customarily worships at the Cathedral of Cash believed his vote could wreck his local school district (think Springdale, with a large immigrant population and many neighboring school districts that white parents might find more compatible with their "culture" if transfers were granted on demand) faith in the billionaires might fall to a practical consideration — election. Think Catholics and contraception.


Speaking of...

  • Community group seeks changes in LR School District budget

    October 23, 2016
    #StandUp4LR, the grassroots group organized to regain local control of the Little Rock School District, now run by the state has issued a statement today critical of Superintendent Michael Poore's budget process for next year, particularly insufficient community input.  It also recommends a moratorium on new charter school seats in Little Rock because of the damaging impact that has on the School District. /more/
  • In praise of Diane Zook for questions on voucher program

    September 9, 2016
    Diane Zook, the state Board of Education member who's drawn criticism here before and will again for her zeal for charter schools and just about anything damaging to the Little Rock School District, distinguished herself at yesterday's Board meeting with questions about a new voucher program that will send taxpayer money to private, mostly religious schools. /more/
  • 1957 all over again

    July 21, 2016
    Last week, the State Board of Education voted to ignore federal courts and allow school district transfers that will encourage segregation. /more/
  • Johnny Key names Little Rock school advisory board; political slant evident

    July 16, 2016
    Education Commissioner Johnny Key told the state Board of Education yesterday his choices for the community advisory board that will provide some input into operation of the Little Rock School District while in state control. The political bent was predictably apparent for a Republican appointee with past devotion to the school agenda of the Walton Family Foundation and other backers of so-called "reform." /more/
  • Baker Kurrus' swan song: A call for 'truth-telling' about charter schools

    June 30, 2016
    Watch Channel 4's news clip of Baker Kurrus, the outgoing Little Rock School District superintendent, speaking before the "stakeholder's group" supposedly talking about collaboration between the district and the rapidly expanding charter schools in Little Rock. It's a heartfelt call for truth-telling about the lack of transparency in charter schools and the peril they hold for the Little Rock School District. /more/
  • Detroit: Another charter school failures raises anew questions about Little Rock

    June 28, 2016
    A heavy push for charter schools in Detroit rather than fixing the poor public school system has been a failure. Should Little Rock continue down the same path? /more/
  • Johnny Key's message to City Board ominous

    June 22, 2016
    I had a conflict and couldn't watch Education Commissioner Johnny Key's appearance before the Little Rock City Board of Directors but two TV accounts and a comment or two from others discouraged those hoping for a return of a democratically controlled universal system of public education in Little Rock. /more/
  • The future of LR schools: Pointed questions from Baker Kurrus

    June 19, 2016
    Outgoing Little Rock School Superintendent Baker Kurrus has raised some pointed questions about a committee appointed to consider collaboration of true public school districts and charter schools in Pulaski County. In short: What's the point if the outcome is pre-determined? /more/
  • Roundabout coming on Fair Park Boulevard; City Board also to hear from Johnny Key

    June 11, 2016
    The Little Rock City Board agenda session next week includes a $1 million contract with Burkhalter Technologies to use bond issue proceeds to build a roundabout at Fair Park Boulevard and Zoo Drive in War Memorial Park. /more/
  • Teach for America retools in face of declining interest

    June 1, 2016
    Teach for America, the program to put bright young college graduates in classrooms of the neediest schools, is experiencing a plunge in interest — particularly at the elite colleges that once fed its ranks. Gee, might it be because teacher morale is low thanks to attacks by the same people backing Teach for America? /more/
  • More »


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • LR Central student scores perfect on ACT

    The Little Rock School District announced yesterday that Karina Bao, a senior at Little Rock Central High School, had scored a perfect 36 composite score on the four-part ACT test, an achievement by less than a tenth of one percent of the 2.1 million who took the test.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Police identify officer in shooting, say he fired to prevent shooting

    The Little Rock Police Department said today that Officer Dennis Hutchins had shot Roy Richards, 46, Monday night because he feared Richards was about to shoot his uncle, with whom he'd been arguing.
    • Oct 26, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • The education legislature

    Republican political control in Arkansas means many things: lots of gun bills, lots of anti-abortion bills, lots of efforts to make religious belief law, such as discrimination against gay people.
    • Mar 10, 2015
  • Supremely discredited

    Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood and her allies continue to discredit the state's highest court.
    • Jul 30, 2015
  • Hutchinson pulls Faubus move

    I don't know what if anything might arise or be planned in the future relative to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's order to end Medicaid reimbursement for medical services (not abortion) provided by Planned Parenthood in Arkansas.
    • Aug 20, 2015

Most Shared

  • Welfare for the wealthy: More reasons to VOTE NO on ISSUE 3

    Voices on the left and right are lifted against Issue 3, the corporate welfare amendment to send tax money to private business and corporate lobbyists.
  • Little Rock police kill man downtown

    Little Rock police responding to a disturbance call near Eighth and Sherman Streets about 12:40 a.m. killed a man with a long gun, Police Chief Kenton Buckner said in an early morning meeting with reporters.
  • From the mind of Sol LeWitt: Crystal Bridges 'Loopy Doopy': A correction

    Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is installing Sol Lewitt's 70-foot eye-crosser "Wall Drawing 880: Loopy Doopy," waves of complementary orange and green, on the outside of the Twentieth Century Gallery bridge. You can glimpse painters working on it from Eleven, the museum's restaurant, museum spokeswoman Beth Bobbitt said
  • Ted Suhl loses bid for new trial; faces stiff government sentence recommendation

    Ted Suhl, the former operator of residential and out-patient mental health services, has lost a second bid to get a new trial on his conviction for paying bribes to influence state Human Services Department policies. Set for sentencing Thursday, Suhl faces a government request for a sentence up to almost 20 years. He argues for no more than 33 months.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • Trumped in Arkansas

    After two solid debates and the release of a video and corroborating testimony that further confirmed the misogyny of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is favored to win the presidential election Nov. 8
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • So many provocations...

    Another bad week demands a Worst Of listing.
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

Jodi Morris's lifelong ties to the National Park Service

"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • The end is near

    Practically speaking, it doesn't really matter if Donald Trump accepts the results of the November election.
  • Football and foster kids

    It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.
  • The politics of opportunity

    Are you sick of the election yet? One thing that seems certain is that our politics remain as hyperpartisan and dysfunctional as ever. I may be naive, but I think Arkansas has an opportunity to help lead the country back toward pragmatic progress on the issues that will make our families and communities stronger.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: The big loser

    • Investigator, you are none of those things, but simply a serial ranter. At this you…

    • on October 26, 2016
  • Re: The big loser

    • If they really wanted to knockout the Clinton's, they would have done so with guilty…

    • on October 26, 2016

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation