Three school districts in Southern Arkansas are challenging the state for the ability to allow students to transfer to another district. These three districts are exempt from a state law requiring students to be able to freely transfer between school districts. Currently in the state there is school choice law that prevents students from transferring to another district if the school is under an ongoing federal desegregation lawsuit and if school transfers will increase resegregation of those districts. These schools affirmed in a March State Board of Education meeting that they were still controlled by past federal desegregation lawsuits and that opening their districts to transfer would lead to “white flight” to neighboring school districts.
In 1989, Arkansas approved a law allowing interdistrict school transfers, but specifically barred transfers that negatively impacted desegregation. More recently, efforts from Arkansas school choice advocates (funded in large part by the Walton Family Foundation) have resulted in a change in culture within the state making school choice conversations more prevalent resulting in a 2015 law providing districts options to opt out of the 1989 law. In 2017, the law was modified again giving final judgement for opting out to the State Board of Education. While that board denied the three districts the option to opt out in March 2018, the legal case was filed in May 2018 with one law firm representing the three districts.
While the state has tracked race on transfer requests within Arkansas, it no longer does so. However, data from 2017-2018 indicate that district #1 had 68 requests for interdistrict transfer including 67 white students and 1 black student. In this district, parents sought to move students from their 45.5% black district to a nearby 99% white district. District #2 is 61% black and had had transfer requests for 42 white students to two neighboring districts at 84% and 99% white. District #3 at 60% black had requests for 13 white students to transfer to a nearby 82% white district.
Regardless of the outcome and potential impact, the trend toward school choice in the state will continue with an increase presence of charter schools. This trend in Arkansas has been supported by Walton monies. Some conjecture these efforts to increase school choice options in Arkansas is part of a plan to end public education. These researchers point to the end of democratically elected school boards (e.g., the Little Rock School District); an increase in demand for school vouchers; a dissolution of teacher associations or unions; a reduction in government spending for public education; and the increase of for-profit, private, and/or charter schools using unqualified, inexperienced, and less expensive teachers.