PB board votes to continue with school choice

The Pine Bluff School Board voted unanimously in a special called meeting Tuesday night for the district to continue participating in the Arkansas school choice program for the remainder of the current school year. Continued participation will be considered next year.

The state Legislature passed a law this year that allows for open school choice in Arkansas, removing race as a factor. School districts that are involved in court-ordered desegregation can opt out of the new law.

District attorney Luther Sutter told the Pine Bluff board that it could choose between two actions — remain in the school choice program or pass a resolution declaring exemption from the program.

Although Sutter said remaining in the school choice program would likely result in the district continuing to experience a “financial drain” because of an ongoing decline in enrollment, he said claiming an exemption from the program would lead to litigation since in his opinion, the district is not currently subject to any desegregation mandates.

The district’s enrollment has steadily declined over several years, Sutter pointed out. At one time, the majority of students leaving the district were white, but that trend ended years ago as the number of white students grew smaller. The district’s current enrollment is 97 percent black, 2 percent white and 1 percent other.