Desegregation/Funding Decision in Arkansas

Last Updated: January 27, 2012

This article appeared in the January 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

Editor's note: Links are free and current at time of posting, but may require registration or expire over time.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a mixed ruling in the ongoing desegregation case involving the Little Rock, North Little Rock, and rural Pulaski County school districts in Arkansas.The case is linked historically to the desegregation lawsuits that sparked violent resistance and a standoff with then-Governor Orvan Faubus in 1957 after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the district to allow nine African-American students to attend Little Rock's Central High.

The current case dates back to 1982 when the Little Rock School District sued the state and the neighboring North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts charging that the actions of the other districts were exacerbating segregation in Little Rock. The court agreed and in a 1989 settlement required the state to provide funding to support the implementation of the desegregation remedy, which has encouraged cross-district student enrollment through the creation of magnet schools, majority-to-minority student transfers, and other measures. State funding for the programs currently amounts to about $38 million a year.

North Little Rock and Pulaski County districts apprached the court requesting "unitary" status for the districts, meaning they are in compliance with desegregation orders and are released from court oversight.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller denied unitary status to both districts, finding that racial disparities still existed and that neither district had complied with the 1989 settlement agreement. And, in a surprise move, he also ordered the state to end its financial support of the desegregation programs claiming the extra money amounted to a reward for the districts for failing to comply with the desegregation plans.

But in late December, the 8th Circuit Court reversed the lower court's termination of state funding, noting that there had been no formal evidentiary hearing on that issue. It also reversed the partial denial of unitary status for North Little Rock School District. However, the Circuit Court affirmed the lower court's ruling establishing a continuing need for desegregation and education equity efforts in the Pulaski County School District.

In recent years courts have lowered standards for compliance with desegregation orders and have granted unitary status to many districts for "good faith" efforts and for eliminating vestiges of racism to the "greatest extent practicable."

Read more:

Read more from the January 2012 Rural Policy Matters.