LITTLE ROCK — The approval of charters schools in Pulaski County has not violated the state’s 1989 desegregation settlement with the three school districts in the county, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge D.P. Marshall Jr. also denied a motion by the state to be released from its obligations under the settlement but agreed to hold a hearing on the issue.
The Little Rock School District and a group of black students and parents had asked Marshall to rule that the state’s approval of charter schools in Pulaski County violated the terms of the settlement, which required the state not to contribute to segregation in the county’s school districts.
"No reasonable fact finder could conclude that the state is in material breach of the parties’ 1989 settlement agreement as to open-enrollment charter schools in Pulaski County," Marshall wrote in a 30-page order.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Thursday, "Today’s order affirms the state’s position that we have responsibly enacted and implemented laws that both create educational choices and adhere to the 1989 settlement agreement. The state has continued to meet its commitment to provide a quality education to all of the students in Pulaski County."
The state had asked to be released from its obligations under the settlement, which include about $70 million a year in funding to desegregation programs. In a separate, three-page order, Marshall declined.
"A trial is needed to resolve whether the state should be released from the 1989 settlement agreement or whether changed circumstances warrant any modification of this court’s orders," Marshall said in the order.
He gave the parties until Feb. 22 to file a joint report proposing a timetable for discovery, the filing of briefs and a hearing.
State Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said Thursday he was pleased with both rulings.
"The state Board of Education and the Arkansas Department of Education take seriously their obligations under state and federal law to promote high-quality, desegregated public schools for all children," Kimbrell said. "We will continue our efforts to work with the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts and open-enrollment charter schools to improve educational opportunities for students."
Chris Heller, an attorney for the Little Rock School District, said he was disappointed with the ruling on charter schools.
"We’re disappointed we didn’t get a trial," he said. "We’ll just review the issues and decide what to do next, probably next Thursday at the school board meeting."
State Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, an attorney for black students and parents who intervened in the case, did not immediately return a call Thursday seeking comment.