Thursday, March 29, 2012
Week In Review
This is my first post from my IPad - nothing to it. State Capitol Week in Review March 30, 2012 LITTLE ROCK – The state attorney general has officially asked in federal court for an end to state payments to the three school districts in Pulaski County in a long-running desegregation case. The state has paid more than $1 billion to the three districts since 1989, when the federal court accepted a settlement among the Pulaski County districts and state government. The amounts paid every year by the state to the three districts mean that every other school district in Arkansas has a financial stake in the outcome of the lawsuit. So do institutions of higher education and state government agencies that are funded with general revenue, such as the Medicaid program and prisons. That is because payments in the desegregation settlement are made "off the top" of the state budget, in the same way that income tax refunds are taken from state revenue and sent to taxpayers. Desegregation payments, like income tax refunds, are not counted as part of the state's net revenue available for distribution to pay for state services. The attorney general's office, which represents the state in lawsuits, argued before the federal court that the state should be allowed to end payments because the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts have officially been declared desegregated. The third school district that receives state payments under the settlement, the Pulaski County Special School District, has been ruled partially desegregated by a federal court. The attorney general says that all the districts in Pulaski County have been released from their obligations to racially balance their schools, and therefore the state should be released from its obligation to pay for efforts to racially balance the three school districts. A major issue before the federal judge is whether the state should continue to help pay for magnet schools in Pulaski County and for "majority to minority" transfers, known in shorthand as "M to M" transfers. The transfers allow a black student to attend school in a district that is majority white, or a white student to attend in a district that is majority black. Magnet schools in Little Rock are 50 to 55 percent black and are an important component in the efforts of Pulaski County schools to desegregate. Another looming issue is the number of charter schools in Pulaski County that have been approved by the state Board of Education. The Little Rock School District argues that the state has violated the desegregation settlement because the state Board of Education has approved so many open enrollment charters. The Little Rock district contends that charter schools attract students who otherwise might attend magnet schools or who might participate in majority to minority transfers. There are 11 open enrollment charters in Pulaski County with more than 4,500 students. Charters are publicly-funded schools that are allowed flexibility in their curriculum and other education standards. The goal is to encourage innovative teaching strategies and to enable charters to better teach gifted students as well as disadvantaged students. Little Rock's attorneys claim that the charters in Pulaski County hamper the efforts of magnet schools, which have 3,500 students, and the "M to M" transfer program, in which 1,800 students participate. Little Rock's attorneys have asked the federal courts to put a stop to any new charters in Pulaski County.