It had tipped its hand clearly earlier with a stay of the order, but the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals finished the job today of undoing Judge Brian Miller’s unexpected and peremptory order ending state desegregation funding to the Little Rock School District.
The attorney general’s office earlier was obliterated in oral arguments on the case.
State legislators hungering after the money — some $70 million a year — to shore up a pinched state budget will have to wait a bit longer. The payments have been made since a historic court-approved agreement between the state and school districts in 1989. The state is paying for years of fostering segregation in Pulaski County.
The appeals court noted that Judge Miller had ordered funding to halt even though the state had not requested it and the judge made no findings of fact to support the decision. It also said it had some sympathy for Miller’s view that districts had an incentive not to comply if it meant continued state money. But it wrote: “Nevertheless, notice and a formal hearing are required before the court terminates a constitutional violator’s desegregation obligations.”
If the state wants to end funding, there must be a formal hearing, the court emphasized. “We express no opinion on what the outcome of such a hearing should be. In the absence of these procedures, the portion of the district court’s order terminating the State’s funding obligations under the 1989 Settlement Agreement is vacated.”
Might I add, again, that it is time for the state and school district to work out a phased-out end to the spending, perhaps with some state promises to follow the law and constitution and not directly encourage segregation within Pulaski County through charter schools that encourage racial and economic division. Said Attorney General Dustin McDaniel:
The State continues to move positively toward ending this litigation and taking the courts out of the classrooms of Pulaski County.
With the Little Rock and North Little Rock school districts now fully unitary, today’s decision reminds us that taxpayer-funded desegregation payments are not perpetual, nor should they be seen as such. Today, I renew a call to the parties in this case to come together for a meaningful discussion about what is best for the children of these school districts and the taxpayers of this State.
Gov. Mike Beebe’s office said there was nothing surprising in the decision, though they were pleased at the speed with which it was delivered. “It will allow the state to proceed more quickly on the issues remanded back to district court,” Matt DeCample said.
UPDATE: See the jump for a comment by Chris Heller, attorney for the Little Rock School District, who believes the opinion makes clear that the state will face a significant burden of proof in arguing for an end to magnet school and other interdistrict remedies for its wrongs.
Politics will get fierce. For example, the state could get out from under running the failing Pulaski school district by by busting it up between Little Rock and North Little Rock, with a separate Jacksonville district created as local people have long wanted.
Today’s order was significant on two other fronts. It upholds denial of unitary status — or a finding of full desegregation — for the Pulaski County School District and reversed denial of unitary status for North Little Rock. NLR now joins Little Rock as fully desegregated in the eyes of the federal courts. (The Little Rock argument continues on whether the state has a lasting commitment to interdistrict magnet and transfer programs regardless.)