JOHNNY KEY (file photo)

As the state Board of Education moves toward reshaping the future of the Little Rock School District, it’s certain that private school management and segmenting of the district will be among the possibilities discussed.

We know this because there’s a steady stream of such talk from lobbyists and others whose livelihoods depend on the beneficence of the Walton Family Foundation. This school junta is busy tearing down the Little Rock district with charter schools, expanded voucher programs, attacks on the teachers union and support for anything that might, for example, strike a blow to demonstrable excellence, such as Central High School as a locus of academic achievement.


There’s an important word of warning here in an Associated Press article on a new study published by the American Educational Research Association.

It says that carving new districts in the South has led to increased segregation, segmenting whites from black and Latino students.


“It can help draw boundaries around white spaces,” said Erica Frankenberg, a Penn State University professor who is one of three authors of the study, published Wednesday in AERA Open , a journal of the American Educational Research Association.


Those who study the creation of new school districts call the exits secession, conscious of the Civil War overtones that has for districts in the South. The issue is particularly important, Frankenberg says, because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that courts couldn’t order desegregation across district lines. That means that while an individual district may be able to find ways to more effectively integrate students, district lines usually pose fatal obstacles to such efforts.


The study examines 18 districts created since 2000 across Alabama, around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and around Memphis, Tennessee. The study found that an increasing share of segregation between black and white students was caused by district lines as opposed to clustering at specific schools within a district.


There’s been some talk of segmenting the Little Rock district. LRSD critics,  for example, have focused on creating new schools in the predominantly white northwestern part of the school district, perhaps even a district unto itself An elementary and middle school, both with populations unrepresentative of the overwhelmingly black, overwhelmingly poor district population, have been created. The start of a high school in that neighborhood is also underway at the direction of Education Commissioner Johnny Key, the nominal Little Rock School Board under state control.

What Key wants — or more precisely what Gov. Asa Hutchinson wants from his appointed Board of Education (helpfully informed by the powerful Walton-financed “reform” lobby) — will be a major determinant of Little Rock’s future.


The reform cabal might move more gingerly than they’d like, given the solid grassroots support for local autonomy that has emerged in recent meetings. But you can see from Lindsey Millar’s coverage last night that they’ve already created a legal theory at the Education Department for continued state control. It is, simply, that low test scores at some Little Rock schools mean the state must remain in control because of the constitutional requirement that the state provide equal and adequate education in the state.

I say horse hockey. Sen. Will Bond put it in a more lawyerly fashion in Millar’s article.

If only the governor, legislature and Education Department were so rigorous about the state Constitution in oversight of the hundreds of other school districts in the state. There are dozens of schools judged as “failing” if test scores are the measure. Some sorry charter schools, too. Where’s Johnny and them?

There are vast inequities in teacher pay and facilities. Where’s Johnny and them?


The inequities in raw material delivered to schools each day — the children — dictate so much of educational outcomes. And yet the state makes no move to address the cradle-to-school differences that weigh so heavily in school “success” and “failure.” It would cost money, of course, and it’s more important to devote that to tax cuts for the rich in the Hutchinson era.

I know I’m shouting into the wind here. But if Little Rock is to have a cohesive, real and universal system of public schools, more shouting will be necessary to stop the state’s brown-and-serve plan.

UPDATE: The web of influencers financed by Walton money is intricate and deep. Here’s a good tutorial.