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Arkansas Board of Education votes to return local control to Little Rock School District

After a lengthy board meeting, the State Board of Education voted to return local control to the Little Rock School District.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The State Board of Education voted Thursday to pass a motion which returns full local control to the Little Rock School District.

All 40 schools in the district will be returned to local control next November when an election for a new school board will take place.

The state board of education has controlled the district for nearly five years because of academic problems at six schools. The number of schools deemed to be failing fluctuated over the five years. The state officially announced that eight schools have an F-grade after evaluations in 2019. 

A plan was initially proposed to retain some portion of state control of those eight schools while having the rest returned to the district. After hearing the latest data, board member Chad Pekron proposed that the board scrap the categories that would have spelled out which schools the state would run. 

After two hours of uniform opposition to anything less than a total return of local control, Pekron's motion passed with the additional proposal that the state reach a memorandum of understanding with the district over what support the state continues to provide to failing schools.

Many of the speakers Thursday had been among a crowd of 2,500 holding a candlelight vigil the night before. The protesters say the plan to return some local control would have re-segregated Little Rock schools, 62 years after nine students were integrated at Little Rock Central.

People like Dr. Anika T. Whitfield say the state voting to bring back local control is a false narrative "because that means that's 11 more months that the state has their hands on our $346 million. That the state has their hand on our children."

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The board also voted that the Little Rock Education Association will no longer collectively bargain with the district. The action removes the only teachers' union that had negotiating power in the state.

In a compromise, the board restored the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act protections that had been waived in December. The LREA contract runs out Oct. 31st. The district will then form a Personnel Policy Committee.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said last week that he will "advocate for local control of the entire school district."

"For us to be a capital city, we have to have a great school district," Scott said.

In September, Hutchinson said the state's education board has a "constitutional obligation" to keep its hand in Little Rock's school district.

RELATED: Governor Hutchinson defends state role in LRSD future framework

RELATED: Mayor Frank Scott Jr. makes Little Rock School District a top priority

This article will be updated once a decision has been made by the State Board of Education.

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