A long-running school desegregation fight in Arkansas is over, after a federal judge accepted a settlement reached by the state, lawyers for black students, and three school districts in and around Little Rock. Under the deal, the state will no longer have to send payments — around $70 million this year — to aid desegregation.
According to the terms of the deal, those payments can stop after the 2017-2018 school year. They had been mandated by a court-ordered program that also included forming magnet schools and shifting students between school districts.
As Debbie Elliott reported for Code Switch earlier today, the complicated case was sparked by the effects of white flight, which created a ring of white, affluent schools around the city. Its deeper roots run to the forced integration of Little Rock’s Central High School under federal guard in 1957.
“This is not a joyful day for African-American people in America,” John Walker, an attorney who represented black students in the desegregation case, told Debbie.
“About the only thing that’s been achieved here is that the laws are gone,” Walker said. “There’s nothing that overtly allows students to be segregated in classes or in schools on the basis of race. What we have is a legal system that has now been replaced by a de facto system.”
The settlement was first agreed upon last November, as Arkansas’ KUAR reported.
But arguments over how long the state aid program should continue (to allow students to have a sense of continuity in their schooling), and which towns should be allowed to form their own school districts, added to the delay of its final acceptance.
In court today, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel called the deal “historic,” says the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“Settlement approved!!” McDaniel tweeted after the judge’s ruling, the newspaper reported. “Case closed!”