The agenda for today’s state Board of Education includes recommended school board zones for a November 2020 election for a limited-power Little Rock School Board.
The state board meeting begins at 10 a.m. At 9:43 a.m., I finally got the information I’d requested 13 days ago on the racial population of the proposed school board districts.
In raw population percentages, five of the nine districts in the layout show majority-black percentages in a district whose students are overwhelmingly black and in a district (it is smaller than the city as a whole) that is majority people of color.
A lot is still missing here. What’s the racial makeup of voters in those districts? What’s the turnout among those populations? Presidential election figures from the Census show a higher percentage of white registered voters (67 percent) cast ballots in the last presidential election than blacks (60 percent), for example. Voter suppression efforts of the Republican Party have also taken their toll on black voters in Arkansas. A simple majority population might not translate into a higher likelihood of election success.
The state Board has moved ahead with a nine-member board, as allowed by a Republican-sponsored law in the 2019 legislative session, without ever debating the issue or anyone explaining why that’s preferable to the seven-member board that existed previously.
Will it adopt board zones with a similar lack of debate?
Are these districts drawn so as, to the extent possible, provide a pathway to a white majority in a majority-black district? It was the majority-black board membership that drove the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and allies in the business community to build a drive for the successful ouster of the board and state takeover of the district almost five years ago. The district is having to wait six years to get an elected board back because of a questionable legal interpretation by the Education Department and it will be a board with severely limited powers for an indefinite period, including virtually no power over a group of schools in the poorest, blackest neighborhoods. In those neighborhoods, the state Education Department, a failure in five years of management, intends to continue its full control along with veto power on every other decision in the rest of the district.
When I finally received racial information I requested almost two weeks ago, 17 minutes before start of the board meeting, I had a three-word response:
Shameful, shameful, shameful.
I should have added: Typical of the state’s bad faith when it comes to the Little Rock School District.
This link might provide a more easily readable version than image at top.
Noted: A couple of other board variations also produced a majority of majority black districts but with percentages that might be even more conducive to white majority control. So the meeting might be interesting.
Here’s one, based on the smallest variance among populations.
Here’s another one, tailored to elementary school attendance zones.
UPDATE: At Board meeting today, the attorney for the department, Courtney Salas-Ford, said the board got the updated maps Wednesday. I got them 17 minutes before the meeting. I consider that a willful violation of the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of the Freedom of Information Act.
During the discussion, board member Chad Pekron said the population variance of almost 5 percent in one district on the recommended map was probably too large and the district should be tweaked to narrow the population differences.
The final maps must be approved by the Pulaski County Election Commission (majority Republican controlled). A final decision on which one to recommend will be made by Johnny Key, but likely after review by the community advisory board and the public. No decision today.