Reform has to take place to Arkansas' current School Choice Law after a federal court judge ruled that it's unconstitutional for race to be the sole factor in deciding if whether or not a student can transfer to a school outside of their district. The bill was originally implemented to prevent segregation, but now lawmakers have to come up with some changes in order for school choice to remain an option for Arkansas students. El Dorado's School Superintendent weighs in on the debate.
"When you look at school choice, you want to give as much choice as people need. I happen to agree with the philosophy that one school doesn't meet everyone's needs so there is some need for choice."
In order to continue to keep school choice as an option for Arkansas students, lawmakers must implement other criteria other than race when deciding if students can transfer to schools outside of their district. Three Arkansas lawmakers have come up with solutions. Senator Johnny Key is proposing that anyone can go anywhere without any restrictions and take out the race factor as long as its not conflicting with any pending desegregation court order. Senator Joyce Elliot is proposing that individual school districts would be able to exempt themselves from the school choice program if it would mean they would be segregating their schools. Finally, the third proposal comes from Representative Kim Hammer where transferring would be limited based on the percentage of students in districts eligible for federal or free reduced lunch. Watson says he prefers Senator Elliot's bill.
"I think there needs to be some control. That is not a popular opinion I might add. Most people want just wide open choice. I prefer the one where give some direction to it. I don't want to see our state back up in any way in the near future."
El Dorado High School is currently 50 percent white and 50 percent black. Watson explains what could happen to the El Dorado School District and school districts as a whole if Senator Key's bill is passed of giving students complete open choice.
"I think that it affects us in our ability in this part of the state in the southern part of the state to have the diversity that we need in every school district. It opens up the potential for some districts to become more one raced than another in a big way."
All three bills were filed on Monday in the Arkansas Legislature and will go through their proper committees before a vote is taken. A bill has to be declared by July 1st so potential transfer students won't be affected in the upcoming 2013-2014 school year.