Since 1989, due to an ongoing desegregation lawsuit, more than one billion dollars has been paid by the state between the three Pulaski County school districts (Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County Special) for desegregation purposes.
However, in November of this year, the three districts, intervener groups (Joshua Interveners, representing African-American students and families, and Knight Interveners, representing employees in the districts), and state attorneys reached a settlement agreement. In early 2014, a federal court will make a decision about the settlement, and if the settlement is approved, the state end payments after the 2017-18 school year. Due to the history of the districts, the decades-long payments, and the monumental deal, the settlement has received a lot of attention across the state and the nation, including a New York Times editorial article.
In 1989, a federal court ordered the state to pay the districts over $129 million over ten years to assist in desegregation efforts, including the creation of inter-district magnet schools and transporting students from majority-to-minority schools (Read more about the 1989 settlement here). In 1998, the court restructured the agreement and continued to require the state to make payments to the districts until the districts reached unitary status (i.e. substantially desegregated). In order to reach unitary status, the districts were monitored in twelve areas: facilities; school resources; inter-district schools (magnets school student assignment); discipline; student assignment; multicultural education; gifted and talented, advanced placement, and honors programs; scholarships; staffing; special education; monitoring; and student achievement.
To help the districts accomplish these goals, the state of Arkansas provided additional funding to the three districts (in addition to regular foundation and categorical funding): LRSD has received $37.3 million per year, PCSSD has received $20.8 million per year, and NLRSD has received $7.6 million per year. (To compare the payment amounts, it is important to consider the districts’ yearly revenue: in 2011-12, LRSD’s revenue totaled $363 million, PCSSD’s revenue totaled $222 million, and NLRSD’s revenue totaled $127 million. See OEP’s district finances databases.)
In 2007, the Little Rock School District was declared unitary by the court, and in 2011, the North Little Rock School District was declared unitary. However, the Pulaski County Special School District has yet to be deemed unitary (now required to continue to work on student assignment and advanced placement and honors programs). In 2011, the court ordered the state to cease payments; however, the districts appealed the decision, leading to the current proposed settlement.
If approved, the settlement will:
- Cease desegregation payments to the three districts after the 2017-18 school year and restrict 2017-18 payments for use on academic facilities
- End new enrollments to magnet schools and through the majority-to-minority program; but allow existing students to continue through graduation (with transportation ceasing in three years)
- Allow the creation of a new school district in Jacksonville/North Pulaski (parting from PCSSD), but not allow any other new district to form during the four-year time period
- End all claims the districts have against the state, including a court challenge by the districts against the state for allowing open-enrollment charter schools to exist
- Provide attorney’s fee payments to the three districts’ and Interveners’ attorneys
While the settlement has yet to be finalized by the court, this year the state, interveners, and three districts have made gains in the decades-long lawsuit. A fairness hearing has been set for January 13-14 by U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. to hear any objections from the public. In the meantime, the state has been required to publicize the settlement deal.
We will be providing you with more updates on the monumental settlement in 2014, as well as other education news. In this holiday season, we at the OEP are thankful for our readers and for all those who work for Arkansas’ students. We hope you have a happy holiday season!