The House today reconsidered the bill by Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle to allow areas with 2,500 or more students to secede from a larger school district. It would open the door for Maumelle and Sherwood to leave the Pulaski County Special School District at some point.
Rep. John Walker spoke against the bill. He said it ran contrary to the state’s aim to create “common” schools, equal for all.
He spoke of the Delta. “We owe them, black and white alike, good schools and we can’t separate them on the basis they don’t have the resources Sherwood and Maumelle have.”
Lowery insisted his would only allow communities to study separation, not guarantee it could occur over state objection.
Rep. Doug House, a Republican from North Little Rock, spoke against reconsideration. He said the state has “unclean hands” when it comes to Pulaski County. It has been found repeatedly by federal courts to have presented obstacles to desegregation. He said the judge that found the state had unclean hands would do so again if the state let Sherwood and Maumelle depart, with their better facilities, and leave a majority black remnant school district with inferior facilities.
He was unheeded. The motion to reconsider the bill passed 65-19 and the motion to approve the bill was 60-21.
Lowery invoked again the “local control” argument that Republicans favor except when they don’t — such as in gay rights and gun control. He complained that Pulaski County residents had been without a voice in the state-run school district for five years and deserved a voice.
This comes against a backdrop of the state takeover of the Little Rock School District, an action supported by the business community, school reform lobbyists and Republicans in general. That Sherwood and Maumelle are majority white communities and schools and the Little Rock School District majority black and once controlled by a majority black school board are inconvenient coincidental facts against the state’s record of animus toward Little Rock schools. (Not counting court-ordered payments.)
Maumelle has a $60 million school that’s half full, Walker said. They have good schools in Sherwood, too, Walker said. Both communities took money out of the district’s larger pot and “now they want to say leave us alone. It’s not equitable and it’s not fair and it will not lead this state to a new tomorrow where all have dignity,” he said.