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Arkansas School Choice Lawsuit Dismissed as Moot by 8th Circuit

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 06, 2013 3:55 PM

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the appeal from a lower court's ruling -- that an Arkansas school choice law violates the Equal Protection Clause -- is moot due to the General Assembly's enactment of a new school choice law.

The court held the case was rendered moot due to the enactment of the Public School Choice Act of 2013, which repealed the former school choice law in its entirety.

Public School Choice Act of 1989

The Arkansas Public School Choice Act of 1989 permitted inter-district transfers of students. However, the statute contained provisions aimed at preventing such transfers from harming desegregation efforts in either the sending or receiving district, according to Education Week.

Two white families challenged the statute when they couldn't transfer their children from the Malvern school district (60 percent white), to the Magnet Cove district (95 percent white) because of the desegregation provisions of the school choice law.

The families challenged the law on equal-protection grounds -- and prevailed. A federal district judge struck down the 1989 law, holding that the state may not base inter-district transfer decisions solely on race.

School Choice Act of 2013

The families were gunning for the Supreme Court in quest to make precedent. But those dreams were dashed when Arkansas lawmakers passed the Public School Choice Act of 2013, which re-established transfer options without the race-based limitations of the 1989 law.

The 2013 statute contains an exemption ostensibly for school districts that are subject to federal desegregation orders and mandates to continue to take race into account in transfer requests, according to Education Week.

Sorry White Folks, It's Moot

The three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the passage of the 2013 law meant that the white families no longer had a live controversy and thus their case was moot. (After all, the families applied for transfers under the new law and were approved.)

Parents argued the case should be ruled on its merits because the new law expires in 2015, and the General Assembly will be free to reenact the race-based limitations.

But alas, the court didn't think it plausible that state lawmakers might revert to the race-based restrictions. The "General Assembly's decision to rewrite the entire statute and remove all race-based classifications evidenced its intent to move away from this constitutionally sensitive issue," the court ruled.

At the end of the day, the State (sorta) won on procedural grounds, not on the merits, by ditching the allegedly unconstitutional practice before a final resolution could be reached by the courts.

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