Valedictorians Suing State of Arkansas
Only Four Blacks Among 808 Scholarship Recipients
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.
Two high school valedictorians claim in a federal lawsuit that the state of Arkansas is practicing racial discrimination in the way it chooses elite students for scholarships.
The lawsuit says only four Black students are among the 808 recipients since 1997 under the Governor’s Distinguished Scholars program. The purpose of the scholarships is to help keep the state’s best students in Arkansas.
Jimmy Hicks Jr. graduated first in his class from Dollarway High School in Pine Bluff. Shontia Frost graduated from El Dorado High School and scored a 30 out of a possible 36 on her ACT college entrance exam.
The lawsuit says the state employs “culturally biased” criteria in awarding the scholarships.
State Higher Education Department Director Lu Hardin says the program was already under review for fairness.
“The governor and I were already looking at several options for the Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship (program), and I am disappointed that a lawsuit was filed before all administrative and legislative remedies were exhausted,” Hardin says.
The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed earlier this month in federal court in Little Rock. The state Higher Education Department and Gov. Mike Huckabee are among the defendants.
The scholarships have been awarded only on the basis of college entrance exam scores. Students need a minimum composite score of 32 on the ACT, a minimum score of 1410 on the SAT out of 1600, or to be a National Merit Finalist.
The suit says the criteria should be broadened to consider grade-point average, class placement, demonstrated leadership ability and volunteer services. The suit seeks damages for students adversely affected by the program. Hardin says his office is considering including grade-point average and leadership ability in the eligibility criteria.
The lawsuit also accuses the program of directing money to private, church-related colleges. Of the 808 scholarships, 383 paid for students to attend private institutions, including
Hendrix College, Harding University and Ouachita Baptist University, according to the suit.
Plaintiffs’ attorney Rickey Hicks — uncle of Jimmy Hicks Jr. — says scholarships worth $6.1 million were paid to the private schools, which he noted are predominantly White. The suit says none of the scholarships paid for students to attend historically Black Philander Smith College or University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Both the plaintiffs are in college and have received other scholarships.
Hicks is a freshman at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on a full scholarship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
University of Central Arkansas’ president, Dr. Winfred L. Thompson, was critical of the program before the lawsuit, saying scholarships awarded on the basis of test scores alone discriminate against Black students.
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