Last fall, I wrote here that the Pulaski County school desegregation case was close to a potential settlement. That settlement received final approval from Judge Price Marshall earlier this week, thus ending decades of desegregation litigation between the State and the three Pulaski County school districts. The State will continue to pay the nearly $70 million in desegregation aid to the three districts for the next three school years. The districts will receive the same amount of money in the fourth year, but it will be designated for academic facilities use only. The settlement also paves the way for Jacksonville to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District and form its own independent school district. Pulaski County is the only district of the three involved in this litigation that has not been declared completely unitary, and that district will continue to work through its desegregation issues. Judge Marshall heard comments from those opposing the settlement agreement, which included magnet school parents and a group of individuals from Sherwood who, like Jacksonville, also wish to break away from the Pulaski County Special School District.
So this begs the question: Are Pulaski County schools, particularly Little Rock, which drew national attention in 1957 for its efforts to prevent nine black students from enrolling at Central High School, finally desegregated? Though legally the answer is “Yes”, I think most who live in Little Rock would agree that the practical answer is “No”. Though the Little Rock School District receives national accolades for Central High School’s academic performance, racial tensions linger, and many white parents continue to pull their children out of the public school system after elementary school rather than send their children to one of the city’s failing middle schools. Little Rock still has a long way to go before it can say that every student at every school, regardless of race or neighborhood, can receive a high quality public education. The end to this litigation though, at least for some, is seen as a step in the right direction.