Judge rules against Arkansas school choice law

A federal judge on Friday struck down an Arkansas school choice law, saying race couldn't be the only factor considered in deciding whether students could transfer between districts.

U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson said the provision of the law dealing with race violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and since it couldn't be separated from the rest, he was declaring the whole thing unconstitutional.

"The State must employ a more nuanced, individualized evaluation of school and student needs, which, while they may include race as one component, may not base enrollment or transfer options solely on race," Dawson wrote.

The state had argued that the provision in the Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 1989 was needed to preserve desegregation efforts.

Dawson's ruling came in a lawsuit filed by a group of parents who argued that they should be given the option of putting their children in the schools of their choice without the limits placed on them by the race provision.

Andi Davis, a lawyer for the Malvern parents, said she's pleased by the decision but had hoped the judge would only strike down the part about race -- not the whole school choice law.

"Nobody's going to be able to transfer from any school district," she said after a cursory reading of the judge's decision. "The school choice is gone."

Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell said he's asked his staff to review how the ruling will affect students, parents and districts.

"That statute is one of a few statutes in Arkansas which allows students to attend school at a school district other than the school district in which the student resides," Kimbrell said.

He also said the education department staff will work with the state attorney general's office to figure out what legal steps, if any, the department will take.