House Rejects Bill On Requirements To Create New School Districts

Feb 17, 2015

Rep. John Walker, a Democrat of Little Rock, who spoke against the bill, suggesting it would lead to new litigation.
Credit Arkansas House of Representatives

Legislation that would loosen requirements for creating new school districts in Arkansas failed Tuesday in the House of Representatives, but its backer says he’ll try again.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle, where officials are studying options for leaving the Pulaski County Special School District. Sherwood is also considering creating its own district.

The proposal would reduce the number of students needed to form a new district from 4,000 to 2,500, which would be more in line with what those communities would have.

On the House floor, Rep. John Walker of Little Rock argued against it.

"The bill has both racial and economic impact and intent. If you look at the communities where the two school districts (would be) located, Sherwood is approximately 80 to 85 percent Caucasian, it’s less than 15 percent African-American, and so is Maumelle," Walker said.

The Democrat said it could also lead to new litigation, like the desegregation case he has been involved in for decades.

"If you have a strict neighborhood system, then you are right back where we started 20-odd years ago and you have the makings of another lawsuit. I don’t think that I’m available or likely to be here for another 20 years, but you’re inviting litigation by taking this approach," Walker said.

Lowery defended his bill, arguing there would be adequate approval processes.

"At every one of these levels, these questions of how would it affect desegregation would have to be answered and should be answered. This just begins the process. This is just a technical change in the law to be able to begin the process," Lowery said.

He also took offense to Walker’s suggestion that race was a driving factor behind the legislation.

"I fully understand saying that something has a potential racial impact, but to say it has a racial intent is an insult," Lowery said. "I hope that was not his intent to insult me. There’s nothing in terms of a racial intent here, it is about opportunity."

The bill was rejected by a vote of 49-25. Lowery said afterward that he will reintroduce his bill later this week.

Consideration of creating new school districts within Pulaski County comes after voters in Jacksonville voted last fall to create a new district there.