University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Public School Choice Act Revisited in Little Rock

In The View from the OEP on January 30, 2013 at 10:10 am

School Choice

Lawmakers in Little Rock have a pretty big “to do list” this session when it comes to education. One of the items at the top of that to do list is revising the current Public School Choice Act of 1989.

History

There has long been concern among Arkansas policymakers that the current school choice law was unconstitutional as it restricted students of certain races from transferring between districts. Several lawsuits have been filed in the last several years by parents who want to transfer their children to a different school district, but are prohibited from doing so based up on their race. In June, a federal judge struck down the 1989 law, stating that race couldn’t be the only factor considered in deciding whether students could transfer between districts.

The attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, made clear what others have known for some time, in order to settle this issue, the law was going to have to be revised.

Competing Bills

There are now two competing bills on the table to amend the Public School Choice Act. One proposal comes from Johnny Key, (R), Senate Education Committee Chair, and the other from Joyce Elliott (D), the Senate Education Committee Vice-Chair. The difference between the two bills is a nuanced one. Senator Key’s bill would allow all students in Arkansas to transfer to another school district of their choice unless they reside in a district that has a pending desegregation court order. Senator Elliott’s bill allows districts to claim an exemption from participating in a school choice program if school officials believe it would result in resegregation.

Senators in the Education Committee are scheduled to discuss this bill today. We’ll bring more updates as they come in.

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