Arkansas School Choice: 2017-18

14,123 (2.9%) of Arkansas’s 479,258 public school students chose to attend school in a district not of their residence. The most chosen among the state’s 238 districts ranged from North to South, East to West, rural to urban. Here are the leaders:

DistrictNumber of Non-resident dStudents
Greene Co. Tech566
Southside (Independence Co.)505
Lakeside (Garland Co.)348
West Memphis267
North Little Rock248
Valley View242
West Fork226
White Hall221
Harmony Grove (Saline Co.)213
Watson Chapel175
Mountain Home160
Pea Ridge156
Lawrence County154
Van Buren128
Magnet Cove115
Hot Springs111
Lake Hamilton107
Cave City102

And here are the leaders of non-resident students as percentage of overall enrollment:

DistrictPercentage of Non-resident Students
Southside (Independence Co.)27%
West Fork23%
Harmony Grove (Saline Co.)17%
Lawrence County17%
Magnet Cove16%
Greene Co. Tech16%
Caddo Hills14%
Spring Hill11%
Cutter-Morning Star11%
Lakeside (Garland Co.)10%

Some fast facts:

  • 218 school districts received at least one non-resident student via School Choice
  • 18 school districts participating in School Choice received zero non-resident students
  • Four school districts claiming exemptions from School Choice still received non-resident students
    • El Dorado – 42 (See more below)
    • Texarkana – 3
    • Junction City – 1 (plus Louisiana resident students) (See more below)
    • Camden Fairview – 1
  • Seven school districts in Garland County, precluded from School Choice by a U.S. District Judge, were among the state’s leaders receiving non-resident students (see Garland County below). Unfortunately, rather than equal access for all, the Court considers race in approving transfers, which sometimes divides blended, bi-racial families
  • 115 school districts have at least 3% of their enrollment from non-residents

Sadly, the residents of six Arkansas school districts were denied choice by their boards. Five of those districts were counseled by the same law firm – Allen P. Roberts PA of Camden. The newly elected board of the Pulaski County Special School District fired the firm last year (along with its superintendent) and unanimously voted to participate in and benefit from Inter-district School Choice beginning in 2018. Texarkana, also represented by the Roberts firm, will not exempt in 2018-19.

Unfortunately, the Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District did not follow PCSSD’s lead, as it did on exemption. The claimed basis for its exemption, the Desegregation Settlement Agreement – written by the district’s attorneys when they were in the Attorney General’s Office – expires at the end of next year. So, unless U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall, Jr. intervenes, the district should be participating in School Choice in 2019. Here are the districts claiming exemptions for 2018-19, linked to their anachronistic and non-conflicting excuses:

Finally, the Arkansas Department of Education, under the leadership of Commissioner Johnny Key, has denied the proposed exemptions of Camden Fairview (except for transfers to/from Harmony Grove), Hope, Junction City, and Lafayette County. Those appeals are expected before the State Board of Education in March. Hope and the State of Arkansas are currently in federal court regarding that district’s claimed exemption from state law.

El Dorado School District

Unlike Inter-district School Choice, which is open to all, but capped at 3% per year, Legal Transfers require agreement by both the resident and receiving school boards and have no cap. In other words, rather than equal access for all, who gets in (or out) is picked and chosen by boards and administrations.

As a result, even though the El Dorado School District is 49% African-American, only 7% of its current 42 non-resident students are African-American, while 88% are White.

The district admits it generally lets in any White non-residents and generally lets out any resident African-Americans. The reverse means it generally traps resident White students and denies entry to non-resident African-Americans. To what end? El Dorado uses “Legal Transfers” to increase its White enrollment and reduce its African-American. It’s tantamount to demographic eugenics.

The El Dorado Promise, which pays up to 100% of college tuition and fees for El Dorado High School graduates, began in 2007. The El Dorado School District’s “pick and choose” method of determining non-resident transfers is disproportionately denying African-Americans the Promise readily available to non-resident White students.

District2 or More RacesAsianBlackHispanicNative American/
Native Alaskan
Native Hawaiian/
Pacific Islander
El Dorado203003742

Junction City

For generations, Junction City has accepted enrollment of Louisiana residents into its district. So, what it denies Arkansas residents, it readily grants Louisiana residents and their accompanying dollars.

Garland County

The seven school districts of Garland County are precluded by a U.S. District Judge from participating in Inter-district School Choice. However, under the Court’s supervision, the districts still send and receive transfers based on race, a method which has since been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Here are the numbers and races of the respective districts’ transfers in 2017-18:

District2 or More RacesAsianBlackHispanicNative American/
Native Alaskan
Native Hawaiian/
Pacific Islander
Fountain Lake5018205369
Hot Springs638160078111
Lake Hamilton16012202057107
Mountain Pine0000001515

What’s wrong with this picture? Under the guise of “desegregation,” as in El Dorado, far more White students (63% of transfers), both in percentage and numbers, are benefitting from the districts’ “pick-and-choose” transfers than African-American students (10% of transfers). And that’s under court supervision! While the Court remains stuck on Black and White, because of blended, bi-racial families, there are examples of transfers being denied and approved within the same household.

Meanwhile, three of Garland County’s seven school districts are among the state’s leaders in receiving non-resident students:

  • Lakeside (348) – 7th
  • Hot Springs (111) – 33rd
  • Lake Hamilton (107) – 34th

And two are among the state’s leaders in non-resident students as percentage of overall enrollment:

  • Cutter-Morning Star (12%) – 24th
  • Lakeside (11%) – 26th

A consensus among the districts to settle their federal court issue(s) seems to be emerging.

When it comes to equal access for all vs. creation, protection of arbitrary government (school board) determined racial percentages, we will always side with the former. While numbers don’t lie, those – like Allen P. Roberts PA – calling school choice advocates “segregationists” do.


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