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School Choice is held invalid


While U.S. District Court Judge Robert T. Dawson struck down the race-based provision in the 1989 Arkansas Public School Choice Act as violating the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the order may not be implemented with the 2012-13 school year.

Dawson’s decision held the state law is in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and ordered the state to stop applying the act after determining that the section is not severable from the rest of the law.

The decision could heavily impact the White Hall School District, which had 118 students enrolled under the law during the past school year. The subsection held unconstitutional states that a student’s transfer to a district other than their home district is dependent upon whether the non-resident district has a higher percentage of children of the student’s race than the percentage in the student’s home district.

If the state appeals the decision, it would next be heard by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals at St. Louis. District courts can stay implementation of a ruling while it is on appeal. Dawson wrote that he expected the ruling to be appealed owing to the important issues presented in the case.

White Hall has benefited from parental concerns of those living in the Pine Bluff and Dollarway school districts over issues of quality of education and school safety.

White Hall Superintendent Dr. Larry Smith is awaiting direction from the Arkansas Department of Education, noting the district had about 62 school choice applications pending.

With 118 enrolled last year under school choice, each student brings in an additional $6,267 annually in state funding. The $739,506 is included in the district’s budget for the 2012-13 school year.

Now the parents, students and school officials are in a holding pattern with the next school year scheduled to begin Aug. 20.