I was remiss in not taking note of an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette earlier this week about the Jacksonville-North Pulaski School District’s desire to make the state of Arkansas pay more for replacement of elementary schools ordered by the federal court in the Pulaski school desegregation case.
I started reporting on this last year. It’s simple. The state no longer feels any obligation for its role in contributing to school segregation and unequal facilities, particularly in Pulaski County. It’s another case, including school transfer law and other acts, in which the state is unapologetically encouraging segregation.
Welcome to the 1950s.
Though the Pulaski school case is all but over, the Jacksonville/North Pulaski district remains under court supervision and is under orders to fix substandard schools (the kind of thing that drove better-situated people — often white — out of school districts.)
Jacksonville voters set a millage rate among the highest in the state. In 2020, it sought $8 million in state construction money to fix the two schools. It got a paltry $1.5 million. The whiter school got more money than the blacker school. Tough, the state said. Your problem. (There’s been some change in the allotments since, but it still falls well short of what’s required to do all the work.)
I wrote in 2020 about this and it’s true today (though Little Rock now has a school board):
Isn’t it in the state’s interest to have one of its units comply with federal court orders? But we’re also in a federal judicial circuit notoriously conservative and notoriously past its once abiding interest in racial equity in public schools. The state is fighting in court to defend laws that encourage segregation in school districts with large minority populations. It refuses to allow democracy in Little Rock, where it abolished a majority-black school board; encourages leaching of better students to charter schools, and judges schools filled with poor kids on virtually the same grading scale it applies to schools full of privileged children. The Jacksonville situation is just more of the same abandonment of racial justice, not to mention the adequacy and equality demanded by the Arkansas Constitution. Judge Price Marshall’s response to Jacksonville’s coming argument that it can’t afford to comply with his court order will be interesting.
The state has washed its hands of the Pulaski desegregation case and vows to spend no more to fix the problems it created in defying school integration. The state also is past worrying about school desegregation in general: It encourages white flight transfers in districts with large minority populations; it encourages wreckage of the Little Rock School District by charter schools; it is rapidly increasing state support for “virtual” schools (huge profits for the private operators) and private school voucher programs. All this is to the detriment of real public schools in loss of state financial support. Real public schools also are being beggared in terms of adequate overall state financial support, a policy decision in budget allocation that hits hardest the poorest (and typically those heaviest in minority populations). Orval, we hardly knew ye.
Things grind slowly in federal court. The latest development is that the attorney for Jacksonville/North Pulaski, Scott Richardson, has asked permission from the judge to sue the state for not delivering on its obligation to desegregate schools in this county. Arkansas remains a party in the case, at least to the extent some facility issues remain to be litigated.
The Constitution and law argue that civil rights are at issue here. The state’s refusal to finance the work nullifies Jacksonville’s effort to do right by its students. Call it interposition, to use the Faubusian term. Said Richardson’s motion to be allowed to go after the state:
This matter calls for this Court to vindicate the federal rights at issue and to prospectively enjoin the state officials from failing to abide by federal requirements as established by this Court. Milliken v. Bradley …
Accordingly, JNPSD requests leave to file a Third-Party Complaint against the Arkansas Secretary of Education and the Director of DPSAFT[which approves school building requests] to present to this Court the questions of whether these executive officers must heed this Court’s orders and whether these orders should weigh in the balance of whether desegregation is a prudent and resourceful use of state funds.
From Arkansas’s point of view, desegregation is over. Racial concerns are over. Kids can go to school wherever, particularly if they are white and fleeing a majority Black school district. If whiter schools are to be treated better in funding, there’s always a technical reason to be found to justify it. The past is a bucket of ashes to Johnny Key and Co. Given that this case might eventually reach the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which just said school transfers for segregation in districts nominally under desegregation orders were OK, the outlook isn’t bright.
It says, among others:
The State of Arkansas has exacerbated one of the remaining vestiges of segregation in this case by refusing to partner with JNPSD to remedy the unequal facilities in the District.
It notes how the case, filed in 1968, was rooted in unequal facilities for white and Black children. Unequal conditions continued in the Pulaski County District, of which Jacksonville/North Pulaski once was a part, for at more than four decades. The state agreed to its separation from Pulaski in part because it would make it a poorer district in property wealth and eligible for more state construction help. In 2018, the judge ruled children had waited too long for equitable facilities. The state gave no consideration to these obligations in deciding to give the district only $5.4 million of the $30 million needed to replace the Taylor and Bayou Meto schools. Appeals were rejected at every level of the state education bureaucracy, all represented by a lawyer working for Education Secretary Johnny Key. It is the latest in a long line of instances in which the state has taken action aiding segregation.
No court has ever found that the State of Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Education, or the State Board of Education have remedied the vestiges of segregation in Arkansas public schools because of their violations of or participation in violations of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Nor is it ever likely to happen. The only amendment of importance in Arkansas is the 2nd.
Richardson wants the judge to order the state to provide full funding allowed by law under the school construction fund, about 47 percent of the total cost.