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— The outcome of the Pulaski County school desegregation lawsuit is important to every school district in Arkansas for financial reasons.

This year more than $67 million in state funding is obligated to the three districts in Pulaski County.

Since a 1989 settlement of the case, in which the state agreed to pay for desegregation efforts in the county, the state has provided $919 million to the three districts in Pulaski County.

The amount will soon reach $1 billion.

Representing the state, the attorney general has proposed a financial package to the Pulaski County districts that would phase out state payments over seven years.

The plan would require the Pulaski County schools to demonstrate their ability to remain financially sound after the desegregation payments cease.

Legislators reviewed the attorney general’s proposal and had mixed reactions. As expected, those from Pulaski County defended their schools.

Lawmakers from around the state encouraged the attorney general to do his best to bring the lawsuit to an end. They say the money spent on desegregationin Pulaski County could be spent as wisely on the education of students in other parts of Arkansas.

One cause of resentment is that the settlement has cost much more than anticipated when the legislature approved it in 1989. At that time, legislators were told the settlement would cost an estimated $119 million over 10 years.

Plaintiffs in the longrunning lawsuit contended that the state was liable because it passed laws meant to halt or slow down integration.

One consequence of the state laws promoting segregation was that in the 1958-59 school year, all four high schools in Little Rock were ordered shut down for the entire year. Closing the high schools in Little Rock for a year affected the families of more than 3,600 students, both black and white.

Attorneys for the Little Rock School District have raised the issue of charter schools, and have suggested that state approval of charter schools in Pulaski County may affect efforts to desegregate public schools. The state Board of Education approves the creation of charter schools and according to the state Education Department’sweb site, there are 19 openenrollment charter schools in Arkansas and 11 of them are in Pulaski County.

The attorney general said he does not place much value in the Little Rock district’s “threats to expand the issues in this ancient litigation to include charter schools.” He also said the Little Rock School District was “at significant risk of falling into fiscal distress when this extra money stops; which it eventually will.”

A district in fiscal distress may be taken over by the state, and if it is unable to correct its financial problems it may be forced to consolidate with a nearby district.

Advanced Placement Improvements

The number of Arkansas high school students taking advanced placement exams increased by 8.2 percent from 2008 to 2009. Successful scores on those exams can qualify a student for college credit.

In the spring 18,437 students took the exams. As recently as 2004, only 11,112 students took them.

Arkansas public schools are required to offer advanced placement courses in the core curriculum of English, math, science and social studies.

If you have any questions or comments about legislative issues, please contact me at HendrenK @ arkleg.state.ar.us or call me at 479-787-6500, extension 30.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 10/07/2009

Print Headline: Capitol Reports

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