Desegregation Case Close to Settlement

Last week, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced that a potential settlement in the decades-long Pulaski County school desegregation lawsuit has been reached. Pursuant to the 1989 settlement agreement, the State of Arkansas currently pays nearly $70 million annually to the Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County Special School Districts, in addition to the normal foundation and categorical state funding the districts receive, in an effort to cure the effects of past state-mandated desegregation. The funding is used for programs that contribute to desegregation efforts, such as the Majority-to-Minority transfer program and magnet programs, among others.

Under the potential settlement, the State would continue its current payments to the three districts through the 2016-2017 school year. During the 2017-2018 school year, the same payments would be made, but the funding would be restricted for use on academic facilities. After that, the State’s financial obligations would end. The settlement would also authorize the creation of a separate Jacksonville School District, a city currently served by the Pulaski County Special School District.

Though the three districts have tentatively agreed to the proposal, the settlement is not yet final. The Joshua Intervenors, which represent the African American students in the districts, have not yet agreed to the proposal. The Little Rock School District voted last week to accept the proposal if all parties participated. The district is meeting again tonight to discuss whether to accept the proposal without the support of the Joshua Intervenors.

It seems as if the Governor and the General Assembly are on board with the settlement, but the real question is what will Federal District Judge Price Marshall think? Judge Marshall will have to approve any settlement reached. Hearings are scheduled to begin in the matter early next month.

UPDATE: On Monday night, the Little Rock School Board voted to accept the settlement proposal. The Joshua Intervenors are on board as well. This means that all parties to the lawsuit, the Little Rock School District, the North Little Rock School District, the Pulaski County Special School District, the Joshua Intervenors (representing African-American students) and the Knight Intervenors (representing African American teachers) have agreed to the proposal. Judge Marshall set a hearing date for this Friday and could give preliminary approval of the settlement at that time.

UPDATE II: This morning, Judge Marshall gave preliminary approval to the settlement. A hearing has been scheduled for January 13-14 for Judge Marshall to hear any objections from the public regarding the settlement.

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