A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

An end to desegregation efforts in Little Rock?

One of my students' favorite stories is the story of the desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School in 1957. The story of the Little Rock Nine, and how they persevered, and the way that the Cold War influenced the calculus of the federal response is always good for provoking that deep level of thinking that history education excels at providing.

What surprises my students is that desegregation efforts in this country are still ongoing. Being kids, they assume that "all that" was settled a long time ago (remember, I wasn't even born in 1957, and they think that I am ANCIENT, so that colors their perceptions, naturally). I have to remind them that desegregation efforts continue even where we live and all around the country, but that they are coming to an end as one asks the question of just how long it takes to ameliorate the harm from discriminatory policies under Jim Crow laws and de facto practices throughout the United States.

Last week a federal judge okayed the end of payments from the state of Arkansas to the Little Rock school district:
A federal judge has halted longtime state payments intended to help integrate three Arkansas school districts, including Little Rock, site of one of the most bitter desegregation fights in U.S. history.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian S. Miller, who oversees the districts' federally ordered desegregation efforts, found the payments were "proving to be an impediment to true desegregation" by rewarding school systems that don't meet their long-standing commitments.

Judge Miller's recent rulings triggered protests by the school districts. But some lawmakers and state officials hailed the decision to shut off the payments, which totaled roughly $1 billion over the past two decades.

Lawyers for Little Rock and the other districts said the loss of as much as $70 million for the year that begins in August would cause budgetary chaos. The state payments amount to about 10% of the Little Rock budget and about 9% for each of the other two districts. The parties have until Friday to seek a stay of the order.

The Little Rock case is among the last of the landmark school desegregation battles, experts say, coming 57 years after the Supreme Court rejected the notion that schools could be racially separate but equal in Brown v. Board of Education.

Federal judges have declared hundreds of school districts desegregated in recent years. Such rulings end court supervision designed to make sure districts move to desegregate—but also can lead to a cutoff of state money to run magnet schools and other programs to integrate campuses.

"School desegregation litigation is on its very, very last legs," said Wendy Parker, a professor at the Wake Forest University School of Law.

One reason is that Supreme Court decisions have lowered the bar for school districts, allowing them to leave court supervision if they could prove they have made good-faith efforts to comply with their desegregation plans and have eliminated the vestiges of past governmental discrimination "to the extent practicable."

At the same time, schools are enrolling more diverse student populations, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

...it took until 1983 for a federal courts to fully approve desegregation plans there. By that time, Little Rock's student body was increasingly African-American (today it's almost 70% black). So the district sued two neighboring districts and the state, contending that their actions had hampered its desegregation efforts, in part by exacerbating residential segregation.

One example: Officials moved a black public-housing development (public housing then was racially segregated) into Little Rock from Pulaski County.

The parties settled in 1989, with the state agreeing to make payments to Little Rock, North Little Rock, which also majority black, and the Pulaski County Special School District, where white students outnumber blacks. The state agreed to help pay for six racially balanced magnet schools in Little Rock, as well as transportation for students who transfer to schools where they are a racial minority.

In 2007, the federal court declared that Little Rock was in compliance and free from court oversight. The other districts quickly asked the court to grant them the same approval, with the understanding, their lawyers say, that the accompanying financial support would be settled later.

Judge Miller, a self-described "middle-aged black judge" who was nominated by President George W. Bush and joined the bench in 2008, took over the case in 2009. He held extensive hearings on the matter, including testimony on persistent achievement gaps between black and white students.

The judge ruled May 19 that narrowing educational disparities is not legally required, though he expressed frustration. "Few if any of the participants in this case have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children," he wrote in a 110-page order.

The judge found that North Little Rock was largely in compliance with its desegregation plan. But he ruled that Pulaski County still had significant shortcomings, such as spending money on new buildings in affluent white communities while leaving buildings in poor areas in bad condition.

Lawyers for both school districts say they disagree with those findings and will appeal. But the judge surprised most parties in the case by finding that one reason the two districts were not already compliant was that they wanted to continue receiving the state's desegregation money.

He wrote that "the State of Arkansas is using a carrot and stick approach with these districts but that the districts are wise mules that have learned how to eat the carrot and sit down on the job. The time has finally come for all carrots to be put away."

Lawyers for the districts say their clients knew the state wanted to stop paying the money, but they expected to be able to negotiate the end of the state payments over a longer period of time.

Christopher Heller, who has represented Little Rock in the case since 1987, said the cutoff may imperil the district's successful magnet-school program.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat, said the school districts have enough money to maintain their programs. "Clearly a lot of people worked very hard to right wrongs, to the benefit of a lot of children," he said. But the litigation, he said, has "reached a point of being viewed as counterproductive."

"Wise mules?" I know LOTS of people in education to which that term could apply. Hilarious.

But wait, there's more!

Yesterday, a federal appeals court issued a stay of the order . Since I cxouldn't find the story anywhere but from the Associated Press, and since they threaten to throw you to the hyenas if you copy their information, I guess you'll just have to go to the link. I'll wait.


Oh, you're back. So here are the questions: Has the state of Arkansas made good faith efforts to end desegregation? Have the pofficials of the school districts receiving the money used the funds wisely? Anyone from Arkansas got any information?

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