Deal To End Desegregation Payments Nearly Complete Despite Reservations
The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday heard details of the agreement reached between the state and central Arkansas school districts to end desegregation payments and approved the terms of the proposed settlement.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel spoke to lawmakers, calling it a “historic milestone,” and praising efforts by the legal counsels of all school districts involved.
The state has been paying about $70 million a year to the Pulaski County, Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts since 1989.
But on Friday Rep. John Walker raised concerns about the deal. Walker represents the Joshua Interveners, a group that advocates on behalf of black families. The group recently backed out of the settlement that would send about $65 million annually to the three districts for four more years.
Walker said that despite the infusion of large quantities of money into the districts over the years, the end goal of desegregation has not been achieved and indicated that it still wouldn't be achieved with this settle ment.
“The intended beneficiaries of this case were the children, primarily black children of the districts whose educational interests were not being addressed...Those children still do not have the same educational opportunities and outcomes as the children of the majority race,” he said.
In the hearing Walker asked the Attorney General to explain for those present what had been some of the Joshua Interveners' demands.
McDaniel said Walker had wanted the state to set up a $50 million trust fund to help African American students in the Pulaski County Special School District as part of the agreement. During the hearing, McDaniel said he believed many in the state legislature would object to such a deal. He said the district and the Joshua Interveners worked out a plan to have the PCSSD fund a $30 million scholarship instead through the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
The Little Rock School District Board voted Thursday to agree to the settlement negotiated by the Attorney General's office and the three school districts only on the condition that every other party involved in the suit also agree to it. But they declined a vote to approve the settlement regardless of whether the Joshua Interveners agreed to the settlement, according to McDaniel.
On Friday morning just before the hearing, a last minute agreement was worked out to between the LRSD and Joshua Interveners to also suspend plans to build a West Little Rock Middle School.
McDaniel said that he is prepared to agree to the settlement with the districts whether or not the Joshua Interveners and Rep. Walker are on board with the current plan. He said there is existing precedent that supports this based on a similar Kansas City case heard by the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, in whose jurisdiction the Pulaski County desegregation case also falls. McDaniel said both the North Little Rock and the Pulaski County Special School Districts have agreed to the settlement "with or without" the Joshua Group.
"I want Joshua on board [with the agreement], I want the Little Rock School District on board," said McDaniel. "I don't have to have both."
The Legislative Council approved a motion that if the parties can not agree on the settlement by midnight November 19th, they will proceed with a court hearing set to begin December 9th.