The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the state of Arkansas cannot cut desegregation program funding in Little Rock-area school districts until the state asks a federal judge for permission to do so, writes the Associated Press.
This comes after U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ordered an end to most of the payments – which costs in the millions – calling them counterproductive. He accused the districts of delaying desegregation to keep getting state money.
But the appeals court ruled that Miller ended the payments without being asked to do so. The state, the court says, must launch a separate action before an end to payments can be made.
However, in light of the appeals court ruling, a spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said that the state is yet to decide whether to file such a request.
Under the 1989 settlement, Arkansas must fund magnet schools, transfers between districts and other programs to support desegregation and keep a racial balance in various districts across the state. State officials have long wanted to end the program, but districts aren't keen to let go of them.
School desegregation has been a huge issue in Arkansas, highlighted by an event in Little Rock in 1957, when nine black teenagers needed the protection of federal troops to integrate Central High School.
Miller's decision came "out of the blue," says Stephen Jones, the lead attorney for the North Little Rock district.
Miller wrote that the payments should end in order to avoid "an absurd outcome in which the districts are rewarded with extra money from the state if they fail to comply with their desegregation plans and they face having their funds cut by the state if they act in good faith and comply."
But the appeals court has ruled that Miller did not make "specific findings of fact" to back his decision up.
Miller, who referred to himself as "a middle aged black judge," wrote:
"After reading the briefs, the transcripts from the various hearings, and the scores of exhibits filed herein, it is very easy to conclude that few if any of the participants in this case have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children."
Miller's decision to deny the North Little Rock district's request to be declared unitary, saying the district offered only anecdotal examples of its efforts to recruit black teachers, has also been reversed by the appeals court.
The 8th Circuit noted that more than 16 percent of the district's educators are black, which is higher than the average 9 percent statewide.
Jones said he was pleased with the appeals court's decision to deem the district unitary, adding:
"In a sense, it's anticlimactic because I don't think it really changes how we're going to conduct our day-to-day business."