Little Rock district charter school suit in court


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An attorney for the Little Rock School District told a federal judge on Thursday that Arkansas has created a "competing system" of charter schools in Pulaski County that violate the state's 1989 desegregation agreement.

Attorney Chris Heller told U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall that the state has allowed the charter schools to operate in the county without any regard for how it would affect the state's desegregation agreement with the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts. Heller said the independently operated schools draw away students who could be participating in magnet schools and majority-to-minority transfers.

"We think the terms of agreement itself, read as a whole, read as you're supposed to read it, show that the state violates the agreement by authorizing a competing system of schools in the face of their commitment to support the magnet school system," Heller said.

Heller said the district is not challenging the law that allowed charter schools in Arkansas, but rather is focusing on the schools that have been opened in Pulaski County.

Arkansas asked earlier this week to be released from the agreement, which has cost the state more than $1 billion. A federal appeals court last year ruled a judge was wrong to cut off desegregation payments because the state had not specifically asked for them to end.

Arkansas is required by a 1989 settlement to fund magnet schools, transfers between districts and other programs to support desegregation and keep a racial balance in the three school districts. Those costs add up to about $70 million a year.

Heller touched on Arkansas' effort to be released from the agreement and said the state's argument focused too much on the money.

"The role described in the settlement agreement is much more significant than just writing checks," Heller said.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Richardson said Thursday that the Little Rock schools and a group of black students and parents known as the Joshua interveners had not proven that the charter schools were affecting the quality of education or desegregation efforts in the county.

"I don't think you can simply call this white flight. I don't think you can simply call this some sort of the state trying to undermine magnet schools," Richardson said. "This is people coming forward, trying to look for other opportunities for their students."

Arguments were expected to continue through Thursday afternoon. He could rule based on the filings and Thursday's arguments, or could order a longer trial on the complaint.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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