Freedom of Choice, the segregation battle cry of the 60s, is now Arkansas law | Arkansas Blog

Freedom of Choice, the segregation battle cry of the 60s, is now Arkansas law

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THE MORE THINGS CHANGE: The more they don't. The language is politer today, perhaps, but the end result of official state action today is still  encouraging segregation.
  • THE MORE THINGS CHANGE: The more they don't. The language is politer today, perhaps, but the end result of official state action today is still encouraging segregation.

A Walton-paid lobbyist trumpets on Twitter the news that the state Board of Education today voted 6-1 to reject requests from Camden-Fairview, Hope, Lafayette County and Junction City to be exempt from the state law requiring students to be able to freely transfer between school districts.

Only Miryea Reith voted no.  The board chair, Jay Barth, doesn't vote except in cases of ties. Fitz Hill was absent.

All those districts claimed they were still controlled by past federal desegregation lawsuits. All said opening their districts to transfers would lead to white flight to neighboring school districts.

A 2017 state law said the state could determine, rather than federal courts, if a school district had made a valid claim for exemption. Attorneys from the Allen Roberts Law Firm in Camden, contend this 2017 law is unconstitutional. I have not been able to learn yet if the firm and its school district clients intend to take that argument to federal court.

UPDATE: A brief message from Roberts by e-mail:



No one has reached a decision yet, but I’ll be surprised if one/some/all of the 4 districts don’t seek federal court relief.

The law firm argues that the state has an obligation not to approve policies that create, maintain or increase racially identifiable school districts. Or so federal courts ruled in the days before Republican politicians and judges declared that America was post-racial.  The law firm quoted an Alabama decision:

Put simply, the State cannot authorize segregative transfers and excuse that result based on the allegedly unbiased “desires of the parent.”
The proceedings today brought a depressing feeling of deja vu. From the Roberts' law firm's letter to the Board:

Finally, the federal court with jurisdiction of the desegregation case, not the ADE or the SBE, is the proper entity to evaluate whether or not Camden Fairview  has a conflict with participating in school choice. The legislature’s attempt to delegate to the ADE the authority to determine whether or not a district has a conflict with participating in school choice violates the separation of powers doctrine and is an unconstitutional usurpation of judicial authority.The Supreme Court of the United States, in no uncertain terms, has ruled that state officials cannot usurp the authority of an Article III Court. See Cooper v. Aaron, 358 US. 41 (1958) (There is a “duty on state officials to obey federal court orders resting on [afederal court’s] considered interpretation of the United States Constitution.” Id. at 4. State officials may not act in ways that “nullify a federal court order.”

Yes, class, in 2018, lawyers for school districts attempting to maintain an integrated enrollment invoked the Little Rock school case (Cooper v. Aaron) in support of the proposition that the state cannot nullify previous federal court orders and encourage resegregation. They are fighting the Arkansas legislature, its governor and its state Board of Education, plus the immense fortune of Arkansas's wealthiest people. It's like the 101st never rolled into Little Rock.

Perhaps it will go to court. If it does, there's no guarantee that the ultra-conservative 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will take the view that its 1958 members did. Freedom of Choice was a well-understood code for segregated neighborhoods and schools in the 1950s and 1960s. It is now trumpeted as the Arkansas way. Today's state Board of Education decisions nearly complete a  movement that began in Malvern and has been supported since by the Walton fortune and other Arkansas millionaires as part of a move to end public education as we once knew it. In time, it will be stripped of democratically elected school boards (as has already happened in Little Rock); teacher associations will be destroyed (they have meaningful power in only two or three places now); government spending will be reduced; schools will be turned over to profit-hungry private managers who use a high burn-rate of underpaid, inexperienced teachers to achieve desired bottom lines at their charter schools (publicly financed quasi-private schools exempt from being required to take all comers.) And the school voucher movement is on the rise now, too. That's what the billionaires wanted all along, but initial resistance brought charter schools as an intermediate step.

Nullification. Really.

Justice Jim Johnson
and Orval Faubus would be smiling today.

I wish I had a video of Dr. Barclay Key's lecture this week to the UA-Little Rock History Institute on the 1967 "school crisis" in Little Rock. It was a sobering history lesson of what happened 10 years after the Central crisis. The segs, fearing true school integration through the proposed "Oregon Plan" that decoupled schools from neighborhoods, retook control of the Little Rock School Board with backing of the real estate community. The real estate men were interested in preserving segregated neighborhoods and schools as better for their business. Ousted were supposed liberals like Win Drummond, Jean Gordon, John Harrell and my future father-in-law Warren Bass. In came, more or less, freedom of choice and, because of its sham bow to Brown v. Board of Education and Cooper v. Aaron, a civil rights lawsuit that spanned a half-century.

What's old is new. The Waltons may be cheering. I'm not. The segs have won. That some segregation today is as much, maybe more, about class than race is no consolation.

(PS: El Dorado and Jacksonville/North Pulaski haven't been beaten down yet on school transfers, but they are targeted regularly by attacks from the Waltons' lobbyist in Little Rock, Gary Newton of Arkansas Learns. The governor, legislature and state board know who butters the bread. Their day will come, too.)

PPS: At the hearing, state Board and department officials dismissed concerns about segregation, with one saying it was speculative. But one of the attorneys for the district noted that 92 percent of more than 14,000 students who transferred in 2016-17 were white and 7.6 percent were black, though black students are about 20 percent of the student population.


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