The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported this morning that the state Education Department had denied in whole or part four school districts’ request to be exempted from Arkansas law that allows almost unlimited student transfers between school districts.

The state is using a tightened state law that gives the state leeway to decide whether the state can override a district’s previous involvement in a desegregation case in allowing school choice. In the case of Hope, Lafayette County, Junction City and, partially, Camden Fairview, the state said past court cases can’t stop transfers (except between Fairview and Camden Harmony Grove). The districts’ lawyer, Allen Roberts of Camden, suggests the state has acted unconstitutionally.

What’s at issue here — and in most school choice battles over the years — is race. The landmark case in Arkansas was brought by white families unable to leave a heavily black school district for a whiter one. The districts affected by this latest decision will likewise be susceptible to transfers that will tend to resegregate the districts.

In short, a state that acceded to school segregation only at the point of federal rifles is now, under color of state law, abetting resegregation of public schools. The state’s effort has been supported by millions in lobbying for law changes and legal expenditures from the Walton Family Foundation in pursuit of its “school choice” agenda. This agenda includes interdistrict transfers, charter schools and a growing school voucher program. None of these produce meaningful integration by race or economic status — the contrary is more likely. The moves have also been enabled by federal court retreat from civil rights-era desegregation law.


The courts suggest race is mostly over as an issue. It is, isn’t it?

“Freedom of choice.” Here’s the Education Department’s justification on applying this to the districts above, and other willing participants, for 2018-19. And here’s a touch of history about the “Freedom of Choice” movement in the 1960s, a gimmick to delay desegregation required by Brown v. Board of Education. The courts (then) found the tactic unacceptable.