Funding Sparks Row Over Desegregation Efforts in Ark., Ariz.

The future of an Arkansas desegregation program that’s over 20 years old will be a decided by the federal appeals court, as the state is fighting to end it, while three schools districts want to preserve it, Yahoo News reports. Arkansas state lawmakers want to end payments for desegregation programs to Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski Country school districts while the district administrators claim that they can not sustain the “deseg” programs without the state funding.

The payments started as part of a 1989 settlement of a lawsuit filed by Little Rock schools against the Board of Education and neighboring schools districts for not doing enough to desegregate Arkansas schools in 1982.

Two years later, a federal judge ruled that those districts had wrongfully separated white and black students. In 1989, the schools and the state reached a settlement that required large payments to the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County districts. It is still in effect today.

The payments have been a constant source of conflict between the districts and the state. Although some of the funds have been used for a popular Little Rock magnet school, the tension over the how the money is spent and how effective the funded programs truly are, has gone on since the settlement went into effect. U.S. District judge Brian Miller, who recently heard the arguments in the case, has noted that some of the state’s concerns are justified. In a ruling, he wrote that Pulaski County, one of the recipients of the desegregation funds, keeps experiencing poor student achievement and discipline issues, and has made no provisions for itself for when the money stops coming in.

After weeks of testimony, Miller concluded that “few, if any, of the participants in this case have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children.” Margie Powell, head of the court-appointed Office of Desegregation Monitoring, said the districts “got addicted to the money” rather than finding ways to pay for magnet schools and transfers on their own.

Arkansas is hardly the only state still struggling with the legacy of racial segregation more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Chron.com reports that a federal judge has appointed an expert to oversee and advise desegregation efforts in the Tuscon Unified School District. This is just the latest chapter in a legal saga that began in 1978 in a settlement that gave the court oversight over the district’s desegregation efforts. A recent decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2004 ruling that lifted the oversight. The Appeals judges sided with the U.S. Department of Justice, finding that “school district failed to act in good faith compliance with its obligations.”

The latest ruling means that the school district continues to be under the supervision of the court and the federal government. The U.S. District Judge David Bury has also asked the plaintiffs and the defendants to advance candidates for appointment to oversee the effort. Both parties have 20 days to submit suitable candidates whose salary, as per Judge Bury, will be paid for by the TUSD.