by Max Brantley
Judge Price Marshall, newly in charge of the Pulaski County school desegregation case, made a bundle of rulings yesterday, mostly maintaining the status quo while the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals considers whether the previous presiding judge, Brian Miller, went too far in summarily calling an end to state desegregation payments. The question was not before Miller when he issued the ruling.
But I'd like to emphasize a key finding by Judge Marshall: That the state must produce information on students attracted to the open enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County. The Little Rock district argues that the schools have promoted segregation — which the state is legally bound not to do — by creaming already achieving students into the charter schools. The most successful of these schools have student bodies that are whiter and more economically advantaged than Little Rock schools and previous analysis has shown that they also are comprised of significant majorities of students already meeting educational goals in the schools they left.
The state, through the attorney general's office, has massively resisted providing data on the charter schools, a shabby continuation of state actions that landed it in this court action in the first place a half-century ago. It also continued a more recent pattern — now thankfully changed — of a most-favored status for charter schools, driven by money from Waltons and other of the state's most powerful families. For years, the state Board of Education gave no consideration to racial impact of charter school creation as it was legally obligated to do. One school, in Maumelle, that was founded on the solemn promise of reaching at-risk kids (read poor minorities) failed miserably at the task, becoming instead mostly a neighborhood flight school for white kids. The state not only wanted the fact-finding blocked, it wanted the whole question about charter schools dismissed.
Judge Marshall denied the state's resistance to examination of the issue. He said the school district and the intervenors for black children had presented ample arguments about "injury, causation and redressability" to keep the issue alive for judgment. The fact that the Little Rock district has been declared desegregated "does not undo the many ties that still bind LRSD to this case," he said. He set out a briefing schedule. He said the state must provide information about charter students, but protect individual identities. The Little Rock School District never wanted anything more than that. Attorney General Dustin McDaniel served only the special moneyed interests in fighting a full examination of the question.
Speaking of charter schools: Check this by a former Times-Picayune reporter on the interlocking web of charter school financiers, their motivations and more.