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Affirmative action

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The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville has a smarter student body these days. Merit-only scholarships have done a marvelous job of attracting bright Arkansas students who once sought elite colleges out of state. They also pull in out-of-state students, an influx responsible for the tiny gain in entering UA freshman enrollment this year.

But there’s a downside to putting all your money in this meritorious basket.

A new report from the Education Trust says the UA, along with a handful of other major universities, is failing low-income and minority students. The land grant university is becoming “whiter and richer” than the state it serves.

This is the final tragic result of richly documented research that says low-income children (who are disproportionately black) start with a disadvantage at birth that grows with each passing day, in part because of things so simple as less effective communication by parents. It’s unfashionable now to suggest affirmative action to help the poor and minority enter the doors of the state’s elite university. Is a scholarship-influenced bias toward white children of comfortable means affirmative action? Maybe not. But nor is it fair.

The market giveth …

We’re among the admirers of the mayor-council government in North Little Rock and its can-do Mayor Pat Hays. But recent events remind us that he’s enjoyed an advantage not available to most other cities.

For years, North Little Rock has been able to pay for worthwhile “frills” with the hidden tax on residents in the form of the hefty profit produced by city electricity sales ($13 million this year). The last city wholesale power contract, negotiated during a national glut of generating capacity, was particularly advantageous. North Little Rock enjoyed lower rates than Little Rock and they still produced millions for city government use.

The market has adjusted to the glut, as it will. Now it’s a power sellers’ market and the new contract requires a doubling of the city’s wholesale rates. Somebody has to pay.

Hays has proposed a 38 percent retail electric rate increase for city residents, effective Jan. 1. But that’s not all. New taxes will raise the rates on other utilities in the city by 5 to 7 percent. The city also plans to reduce the amount it devotes to capital costs, transferring millions to operating revenue. Some day, this deferred maintenance will come due. Police positions will go unfilled. City business taxes are likely to rise. The amount transferred annually from electric receipts to the general fund will plunge by $8 million.

Frills are likely to be in short supply in the years ahead. When Hays’ term expires in two years, he might decide the job of mayor just isn’t as much fun as it used to be.

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