LITTLE ROCK — The Legislative Council voted Friday to endorse a tentative settlement to end state desegregation payments to the school districts in Pulaski County as long as Attorney General Dustin McDaniel can bring the Little Rock School District on board.
McDaniel asked the body of lawmakers that oversees state government between legislative sessions to give him until midnight Tuesday to persuade the Little Rock School District to join the agreement.
The Little Rock School Board voted unanimously in favor of the settlement plan Thursday night, but did not vote on a second motion to go forward with the settlement even if the Joshua intervenors — black parents in the Little Rock district — decide not to support the plan.
McDaniel told lawmakers he must have the Little Rock board’s support before he can take the agreement to a federal judge for approval. A hearing is scheduled Dec. 9.
"I want Joshua on board, I want Little Rock School District on board. I don’t have to have them both," he said.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, attorney for the Joshua intervenors, said during the Legislative Council meeting that he did not believe the original intent of the lawsuit, filed in 1989, had been reached and as of now the agreement would not be supported.
The pact would end state desegregation payments of nearly $70 million annually to the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special districts after the 2017-18 school year and clear the way for creation of a new school district in Jacksonville. The districts would get another year of payments in 2018-19 to be used exclusively for school buildings.
McDaniel said the agreement addresses several key things he and the Legislature wanted in a settlement.
"We want a date certain when our financial obligations will end," he said. "We want a dollar amount certain, before our financial obligations would end, and we would like to have some accountability for the financial investment that we are making in these students. I don’t think those sound unreasonable as goals."
During Friday’s meeting, Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, suggested that the obligations had not been met.
"How has this money been used to end this issue, to resolve this issue to desegregate these three school districts?" she asked. "And, if you have white flight, so now the districts are mostly comprised of minority majority and it can’t even be achieved … what the heck are talking about here?
"I cannot imagine 24 years of all this money going into three districts and they are no better off. To me it’s frightening. The more we give them the worse they get."
McDaniel said the three school districts have received more than $1 billion in state desegregation funds since 1989, when the state acknowledged past segregation — the case had its origins in the 1957 Little Rock school integration crisis — and agreed to help fund programs meant to desegregate Little Rock area schools and overcome educational disparities.
He said he did not think the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts should still be receiving money because they have been declared unitary — desegregated — by a federal judge. The Pulaski County School District is close to being declared unitary, he said.
"Why do they continue to receive money? Because the 8th Circuit said so," he said. "It’s as simple as that. So the next step to end that money is to do what the 8th Circuit told us to do, which is to have that hearing on Dec. 9."
McDaniel noted remaining vestiges of segregation but said "we have paid our dues, we have paid the money, we have set a path together … this settlement, this litigation, should end."
During the meeting, Walker said the intended beneficiaries of the long-running desegregation case primarily black children of the districts whose education and interests were not being addressed.
"And irrespective what the courts have said about unitary status for two districts, those children still do not yet have the same educational opportunities, and outcomes, as the children of the majority race," he said. "In the process, what we’ve had is a lot of school districts adjacent to Little Rock being created of one race."
McDaniel told reporters later that he thinks the Little Rock district will come around and support the agreement by the midnight Tuesday deadline.
"I believe that the Little Rock School District will authorize them to join the state and the other school districts, whether or not Joshua is a part of the settlement," he said.
Also Friday, the Legislative Council approved nine policies governing repeat parole violators and agreed to ask the attorney general for guidance in countering a federal proposal to designate much of Arkansas as a critical habitat for protection of two fresh-water mussels.