When the Arkansas Board of Education took over the district, it dismissed the local school board and put the district superintendent under state control. The state’s board last week approved a “framework” for the district’s future if it doesn’t meet the requirements to leave state control. Under the plan, schools that are rated at least “D″ by the state would remain under the control of the board. Schools rated “F″ would be placed under “different leadership” in partnership with the district, though it’s unclear what that means. The plan also says another category of schools that are being reconfigured “may” be run by the local board.
All but one of the eight currently F-rated schools in the district are located south of Interstate 630, which is historically viewed as the dividing line between Little Rock’s predominantly white and predominantly black neighborhoods. The latest grades for the schools come out next month.
“If you do this, you’re helping to perpetuate a divide that was put there deliberately,” Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott, referring to the interstate, told the board last week. “If you do this, you will be furthering that effort to keep us divided deliberately.”
Proponents say the plan gives parents and community leaders the local control they’ve been seeking but offers the schools the state support they need to address academic problems.
“If the state ignored the academic performance measures and returned all schools without sufficient support, then we would surely have dedicated civil rights lawyers that would immediately be filing a lawsuit saying we’re not meeting our obligations,” said Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who dismissed the notion that the plan amounts to re-segregation.
“That is wrong, it is not based in fact and it is really trying to resurrect old history that has no application to today,” Hutchinson said.
The testing system and accountability measures for schools have changed since the 2015 takeover. Education officials say that although the district hasn’t made the academic gains it hoped to make, it has improved in some areas, such as its facilities and finances.
“There were a lot more problems in Little Rock than just the way the academics was showing up when we intervened and we discovered all those after the fact,” Board Chairwoman Diane Zook said.
Related: ”The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East , especially if you are black or Hispanic”.