Little Rock, Arkansas has a long and complicated history when it comes to its educational system. Even if you don’t remember the stunning images from 1957 when President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to help nine black students face angry crowds of white people when they entered a school that was dubbed “for whites only,” you are probably familiar with them from your history books. The Little Rock Nine, as they were later dubbed, became a beacon of hope in ending desegregation in public schools in the South.
Ever since then, the federal courts have been involved in Little Rock’s school system. This is where the city’s complicated history with education policies begins. With federal involvement comes federal money; that money was supposed to continue desegregation efforts. However, it didn’t quite work out that way. White flight hit many neighborhoods, causing a doughnut effect: the doughnut around Little Rock contained affluent, white schools, while inside the doughnut were poorer, black schools. According to NPR, “Little Rock sued the state and the districts around it for maintaining a segregated education system. Court-ordered remedies expanded the district’s boundaries to catch some white flight, and established inter-district transfers and magnet schools. The state picked up much of the tab.” This tab was to the tune of $70 million per year payments, even though the economic makeup of the city’s schools hasn’t changed much; about 66 percent of students are black, and about 70 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch programs.
In a ruling today, however, U.S. District Judge Price Marshall has decided to end those payments. This will not happen immediately; in an effort to meet both sides — from whom he heard several hours of testimony today — Marshall ruled that payments will not stop until 2017, giving area schools time to figure out what to do without those funds. For these last four years, the state will pay the districts $65.8 million and these funds are only to be used for the construction of academic facilities. According to the Baxter Bulletin, “Objections raised in court Monday included whether students currently in magnet school programs could continue in their current curricula (they can’t) and whether students in majority-to-minority transfers can stay where they are until graduation (they can).”
Many area suburbs want the chance to create their own districts apart from Little Rock. This ruling will give them the right to do so, and many may be able to start before the 2017 deadline. Furthermore, the Little Rock and North Little Rock schools have been deemed integrated, but the Pulaski County schools — a neighboring county — have been shown to fall short in many aspects, including facilities.
After decades of court battles, all parties seem relieved that the decision has been made and an agreement has been met. The Joshua intervenors, who represent the black students in the area and the lone holdouts on the agreement, eventually signed off on it. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said, “We all had a common commitment to this agreement’s fundamental fairness.”
With all parties happy about the agreement, the only thing the rest of American can do is wait to see how it plays out. Hopefully, this is a step forward for Little Rock schools that the Little Rock Nine would be proud of.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons