As has been widely reported Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked a federal judge this week to end the annual payment the state makes to fund desegregation programs in Pulaski County's three public school districts. Under the original agreement, payments were to end after seven years. Twenty-three years and several addenda later, the payments continue.
As has been widely reported Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked a federal judge this week to end the annual payment the state makes to fund desegregation programs in Pulaski County’s three public school districts. Under the original agreement, payments were to end after seven years. Twenty-three years and several addenda later, the payments continue.
Since courts first brokered the settlement in 1989, the state has paid about $1.1 billion to the three districts, the attorney general said in a motion filed in U.S. District in Little Rock.
McDaniel argues the payments should be lifted because the North Little Rock and Little Rock school districts have already been declared substantially unitary, or desegregated, and the Pulaski County Special School District has been declared partially unitary.
These declarations mean, “the districts have eliminated the vestiges of segregation in student assignments to the extent practicable and are no longer compelled to racially balance the schools,” the attorney general said in the motion.
We agree. There once was a proper place for the continuation of these payments, but that era has passed. Since 1989, the demographic character of Pulaski County has changed markedly. So too, have the nature of public schools. This is particularly evident in the rise of magnet and charter schools.
Even a cursory stroll through hallways of the districts concerned would reveal a heterogeneous amalgam of cultures, races and ethnicities. To the extent that a democratic government can force people to live or attend school together, that end has been attained. To the degree that a government can fairly assist school districts in their goal of achieving desegregation, that end likewise has been properly served.
In a broader view, we must acknowledge a few hard truths about our society. Those with the means and the proclivities to do so will simply move when their present circumstance becomes intolerable. Just as we here in Pine Bluff have witnessed “white flight” and “middle class flight,” so too has Pulaski County. Properly motivated, people engage in a perfectly rational and utilitarian process of maximizing opportunities for themselves and their families. They deem their neighborhood to be “not what it once was” and seek higher ground.
At the other end of the spectrum, those without the means to seek a different vista will remain behind, stuck in whatever condition they find themselves. More often than not, what results is a situation many social scientists describe as “concentrated disadvantage.” Once vital communities now dwindle with only the least employable, least educated and most desperate people on the population rolls. This in turn breeds crime, violence, disorder and a disintegration of neighborhoods. In short, it is a situation tailor-made to inculcate despair and communal malaise. Outside of enacting movement restrictions, which would be anathema to the Constitution, little can be done to interrupt this ebb and flow of population.
Occasionally, the chasm between the two positions becomes so great, the government must intercede. This is exactly the point of the 1989 settlement. This then begs the question as to whether any kind of parity has been reached. This point is debatable. Which is exactly what McDaniel and others will now do before the courts.
No one argues that old wrongs should not be made right. Whether continued state payments actually do that is unclear.