Justice Dept. Backs Missouri In St. Louis Busing Dispute
The U.S. Justice Department told a federal appeals court last week that a federal district judge may have overstepped legal bounds by ordering the state of Missouri to fund a substantial portion of the St. Louis area's voluntary desegregation plan.
In a brief filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the department argued that U.S. District Judge William L. Hungate had not established a factual record sufficient to justify his orders designed to finance the plan.
The department's Oct. 19 filing in the case coincided with Gov. Christopher S. Bond's opening of a special session of the state legislature to consider a tax-increase proposal to help offset the state's costs for the plan. The state's share is estimated at $70 million this year and perhaps as much as $500 million over the next five years.
During the opening session, Governor Bond called the plan "a man-made disaster, produced by a solitary federal judge who labors under the misguided belief that we can reshape our society by raiding the state treasury."
About eight black legislators walked out on the Governor, according to St. Louis school officials.
The St. Louis area's voluntary integration plan is the largest of its kind in the nation. The agreement reached between the city school board and 23 outlying suburban school systems has resulted in the transfer this year of about 2,300 black students from city to suburban schools and about 400 white suburban students to city schools.
The plan envisions the eventual transfer of approximately 15,000 black students from the city to the suburbs. The city school district enrolls 60,500 students, of whom 78.9 percent are black.
The plan also calls for the establishment of new magnet schools in both the city and the suburbs, the voluntary integration of teaching staffs, and the creation of a new coordinating committee to oversee its implementation.
In addition, the plan requires the state to pay school districts that send students to other districts for desegregation purposes half of the state aid that they otherwise would have received for each pupil.
At the same time, districts that accept student transfers would receive a full share of the state aid per child.
Furthermore, the state is required to pay 100 percent of the cost of components of the plan involving both the city and suburban districts, such as magnet schools, faculty desegregation, and student transportation. The city and the state were ordered by Judge Hungate to split the cost of improvements in the quality of education for students who will continue to attend predominantly black schools in the city.
In papers filed with the Eighth Circuit Court, the state argued that, because it had only been found liable for student segregation in the city but not in the suburbs, it should not be forced to pay for the plan.
The Justice Department's brief supported this position. In addition, that position was supported earlier this month by eleven school districts in suburbs of Kansas City.
Those districts contended that the cost of the St. Louis plan could imperil their own inter-district desegregation case, which is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 31.