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Little Rock Desegregation Settlement Plan Gets OK From Attorney for Black Students

By guest blogger Evie Blad.

An attorney who advocates for the interests of black students in the Little Rock desegregation case has signed off on a tentative plan that would end a 1989 settlement agreement and eventually end about $70 million in annual state desegregation aid to three central Arkansas school districts, the Associated Press reports.

The lawyer, John Walker, had been the last holdout on the agreement, which state lawmakers and the North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts approved Nov. 15. Walker informed reporters of his decision to sign onto the deal Monday night after the Little Rock school board, which had previously said it would not approve the plan unless Walker agreed to it, voted to sign the agreement whether or not he gave his blessing.

The federal judge who supervises the high-profile case has set a Tuesday hearing to discuss the agreement. If he approves, the plan would end the desegregation aid after four years, gradually end new enrollments at and transportation to the magnet schools created under the 1989 settlement, allow for the creation of a new school district in the northern portion of the county, and mandate the end to all claims the districts have against the state in the long-running court battle.

Walker, an outspoken state representative and a fixture in the Arkansas civil rights community, represents a class of black students affected by segregation in the districts that is known as the Joshua Intervenors, named for a family who intervened in the case. He's viewed by some as a hero and by others as a thorn in the side. Walker has questioned every turn in the case, carefully weighing in when the court declared the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts unitary, or in compliance with their desegregation plans.

He's also been quick to say that some of the goals of the 1989 settlement have not been realized. For example, the districts funnel more facilities money into buildings that attract affluent white students, he's said.

But the state was set to make the case in a December hearing to end the settlement and the payments immediately, which fueled talks of an out-of-court deal. It would have been a gamble for Walker to drag his feet.

The case has roots in the landmark 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High School. It will be interesting to see if the end of litigation and the greater distance from court supervision and monitoring change the way the Little Rock school board governs the district. For years, members have dutifully quoted judges' orders in meetings about everything from teacher contracts and program monitoring to facilities and student assessments (as a former reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, I covered many of these discussions).

But the most immediate priority for school leaders if the deal is approved will probably be planning for the end of the desegregation aid. It's a tough time for any school leader to structure a multimillion-dollar district budget—even tougher when millions of dollars of that budget are set to go away.

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