So what happens now on state desegregation aid for Pulaski County schools in the aftermath of Judge Brian Miller's strange and unexpected order releasing the state from financial obligations even though he hasn't declared all three districts desegregated. (I originally wrote that unitary status was a requirement of the deseg settlement, but, thanks to TAP, I'm now not so sure that is correct and can't find a document to settle it.)
The state has budgeted some $70 million for the districts for the next school year. Can it still pay the money? Will it? What about magnet schools? What about teacher benefits? Will Gov. Mike Beebe call a special session to stop the spending and send the money elsewhere? I can't get any elaboration from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Beebe's spokesman Matt DeCample said the first question is not about a special session but about assuring a
"viable" education for all affected students in Pulaski County, some 50,000 of them. The governor will continue talking with Education Director Tom Kimbrell about next year's needs. That could mean a decision on spending some or all of the $70 million on schools next year, as budgeted, to avoid damaging surprise cuts. "We have to have that discussion before starting talking about how to spend the money moving forward and what do you spend it on."
Parents of children in magnet schools, a separately funded obligation of the state, are watching nervously. Will these schools exist next year? Judge Miller has created a mess, however much he might have thought he'd cut the tangle of the school case with his homespun mule analogy.
Chris Heller, the Little Rock School District attorney, said the district will file its notice of the appeal of the ruling today. "As soon as we can get the papers drafted, we will ask Judge Miller for a stay and ask the Eighth Circuit for expedited review," he said.
Consider for a minute, though, this strange portion of the judge's ruling:
For these reasons, the State of Arkansas is hereby released from its obligation to pay for any and all of the North Little Rock School District's, the Pulaski County Special School District's, and the Little Rock School District's desegregation efforts, except for those associated with M-to-M transfers. Further, Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County are hereby ordered to show cause why the State of Arkansas should not be ordered to stop funding for M-to-M transfers.”
Released from obligations. That doesn't mean the state is not permitted to continue agreed-on aid in some fashion. But he asks for arguments on ORDERING an end to support of interdistrict transfers. Seems contradictory somehow. And does the judge really mean to END the interdstrict transfers, which affect some 2,000 students? He might as well. Without state money, the program likely can't be continued. In deciding it was time to "punish" the school districts, the judge has effectively moved to punish thousands of students in the transfer program and magnet schools by depriving them of school choices they made.