An Arkansas school board vote against state supervision of public schools may have eased fears of resegregation in the capital city of Little Rock, but a vote to strip the teacher’s union of their rights is reigniting a different fight.
The Arkansas Board of Education took a step Thursday toward returning the Little Rock School District to local control, rejecting a controversial idea that struggling schools remain under state supervision while improving schools were run by a local board.
During the meeting, the state education board also stripped the Little Rock teacher’s union of their rights, preventing them from bargaining with the district on salaries and other issues.
The votes at the board meeting come after days of protests against the idea of split control of the Little Rock schools, which opponents said would return the city to a “separate but equal” public school system.
Board member Chad Pekron proposed the motion to return control to a locally elected school board by 2020.
Little Rock’s Mayor Frank Scott Jr., called the board’s decision a “historic moment,” CNN affiliate KATV reported.
Educators also praised the decision, but it was the vote against the teacher’s union that raised fears of a possible strike.
The Arkansas Education Association, a statewide education advocacy group, released a statement obtained by CNN affiliate KARK after the board’s decisions:
“Today, the Arkansas board of education voted to return local control of Little Rock schools to the community, however the Board also approved a measure that attempts to silence educators be eliminating the recognition of their union.”
The union had previously raised the possibility of a strike if the proposal was approved, according to CNN affiliate KATV.
How the controversy began
The state of Arkansas took over Little Rock schools in 2015 because some schools had been struggling academically. The rejected proposal would have returned control of better performing schools back to a locally elected school board, but assigned “different leadership” to eight schools with an “F” rating.
The schools that would remain under the control of the state education department are majority-minority, and that’s unsettling to some who feel the proposed division would lead to defacto segregation, in a city still bearing the scars of the Central High desegregation crisis of the 1950s and the Little Rock Nine.
Board member Diane Zook said the state would still be involved in the school district, even after restoring local control.
The district has about 25,000 students in 48 schools, according to the city’s website.
The Little Rock School District has been under the control of the Arkansas Department of Education since 2015, when six of the district’s 48 schools were found to be struggling academically, CNN affiliate KATV reports.
If the district hasn’t improved enough by January 2020 to meet certain exit criteria, the state education department proposed a plan to deal with the district’s lower performing schools. Each school in the district would get a letter grade, from A to F. School with grades D or above would be returned to the control of the Little Rock School District. Schools graded F would still be subject to state control.