During the session, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Act 1227, the Public School Choice Act of 2013, which allows for open school choice with two main limitations. First, it allows school districts to declare an exemption if the district is subject to a desegregation order or mandate of a federal court of agency remedying the effects of past racial segregation. This decision is left entirely to the school districts, with no real approval necessary from state education officials. There’s increasing discussion about how broad this provision really is. It can be argued, at least in my opinion, that every district in the state could declare an exemption under this provision. Every school district in the state, or its predecessors, once operated legally segregated schools pursuant to state law, and in turn, every school district is subject to the mandate of Brown v. Board of Education to remedy the effects of that segregation. I don’t think this is what the General Assembly intended, but there’s certainly an argument to be made. Several school districts have already declared such an exemption.
Second, the Act caps the number of transfers outside of the school district, less any transfers into the district, to no more than 3% of the school district’s third-quarter average daily membership for the preceding school year. Current transfers under the old school choice law are specifically not voided by the new law, and are to be considered transfers under the new law going forward. There’s no mention about what happens if current transfers under the old law already surpass the 3% cap. I don’t know if this is potentially a problem for any school district.
In addition, the Act repealed the old school choice law, which was challenged by students seeking to transfer out of the Malvern School District and was declared unconstitutional by Judge Dawson last year. Both parties cross-appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, and just last week, the Eighth Circuit asked for supplemental briefing from the parties, intervenors, and interested amici about whether the case is moot or if the voluntary cessation doctrine applies, in light of the legislature’s repeal of the law. Courts don’t issue advisory opinions, and in this case, because the state has voluntarily stopped operating under the law at issue, I think there’s a very good chance the Eighth Circuit will rule that the case is moot and avoid issuing a ruling on the merits. Either way, transfers will proceed next year under the new law, with the applications for new transfers, June 1, fast approaching. I suspect that in the coming weeks, we’ll see more school districts opt out.
My grand-daughters have been attending West Fork School District since they were in first and third grades. They live in Mountainburg, AR. This year the eldest, who is a senior chose to go to Mountaiburg. She does not like the school and wants to return to West Fork. However, we are to late for the school choice. What could we do so she could return to West Fork.
My oldest son was granted a legal transfer from the Dollarway School District to Stuttgart School District last year in March, and his little brother is set to attend Kindergarten this upcoming fall. Dollarway now refuses to release him on School Choice grounds of their declared Exemption, and Stuttgart cannot accept him as a legal transfer, since they are prohibited from doing so under the same law. I’ve spoken with the Superintendent of Dollarway and he stated he will not grant a legal transfer, nor will they participate in school choice, even though my oldest son is enrolled in Stuttgart. We live 16 miles from Stuttgart, and 25 from Dollarway. This Exemption ‘free pass,’ as I call it, is a serious problem for us right now. There’s no consideration being given to annexed or consolidated school districts, or for the release of those who have a sibling in another district. With Dollarway under Academic Distress and a special needs child, it is not in his best interest to attend Dollarway, even if we did live in the area. Currently, it’s impossible, since – while I am many things, omnipresent is not one of them. I cannot be in Dollarway and Stuttgart at the same time each day. My oldest plays sports in Stuttgart, and I am self-employed as a photographer, doing most of my business in Stuttgart. This option was meant to aid parents and children in finding the best opportunities for a quality education. So far, it has failed us miserably.