Judge Again Orders U.S. To Fund Chicago Desegregation Efforts

By James Hertling — August 22, 1984 6 min read
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A federal district judge, citing the Reagan Administration’s “continuing egregious violations” of a 1980 consent decree in a Chicago school-desegregation case, last week ordered the government to pay $28.8 million in desegregation aid immediately to the Chicago Board of Education.

Under the terms of the order, the government must supply a total of $103.9 million in aid for the 1984-85 school year, and must put an equal amount in an escrow account for the following year by Nov. 1. The order obliges the government to “forward-fund” the desegregation plan in this manner “for subsequent school years.”

The order sets the overall cost of implementing the terms of the consent decree at $171.6 million for 1984-85--a total “expected to be necessary in each of the succeeding school years.” The order says the federal government and city school board must devise a desegregation-finance plan for the 1985-86 school year by Oct. 1, and for subsequent years “on or before Oct. 1 of the year preceding each next upcoming school year.”

Late last week, the Justice Department was preparing to respond to the order by asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for a stay until it has been appealed, said a spokesman.

Program Said Threatened

Chicago will have to cut $20 million from its planned $90-million desegregation program for the coming year if it does not receive that amount in federal funds in the next few weeks, according to Nelvia Brady, Chicago’s associate superintendent for equal educational opportunity.

She said that no decisions have been made on specific reductions, but that it is a “top priority” to maintain existing desegregation programs.

The school board plans to spend $73 million of its own funds on desegregation programs in the coming year, according to Ms. Brady.

In his order, U.S. District Judge Milton I. Shadur accepted the city school board’s contention that it urgently needs federal funds. Without immediate receipt of at least $20 million, “programs serving tens of thousands of children will be terminated [and] 550 to 600 teachers and other staff will be discharged,” he said.

Costly Voluntary Measures

The desegregation plan, which involves no mandatory student busing, relies mainly on magnet schools and voluntary student transfers to reduce racial isolation in the city’s schools; about half of the 600 schools remain predominantly minority.

According to Ms. Brady, education for the estimated 345,000 students attending these schools is to be improved under the plan by a variety of methods, including extended school days and school years, all-day kindergartens, and master-teacher programs. Such programs are already in place in 107 of the targeted schools, involving about 66,000 students, said Robert Seigh, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Education.

Unusual Legal Battle

Justice Department lawyers representing the federal government in the case, United States v. Board of Education of the City of Chicago, told Judge Shadur July 13 that if his order is upheld upon appeal, they will abide by it, according to Alexander Ross, a department lawyer working on the case.

The unusual legal situation posed by the case pits the power of a federal court against the authority of the executive branch of the federal government. The contest began with a June 30, 1983, ruling by Judge Shadur that the government was not living up to the financial obligation suggested by the wording of the 1980 decree ending the federal enforcement role in Chicago’s desegregation effort.

For the past year, however, the Administration has argued that it bears no special fiscal responsibility for the funding of the city’s desegregation programs. That stance led Judge Shadur to take the unusual legal step of “freezing” $47.5 million in Education Department funds last year and $66 million this year, under the same standing order.

Other Programs Affected

The impoundment has threatened the future of several federal programs. These include Follow-Through, the National Diffusion Network, the Women’s Educational Equity Act program, educational aid to the Virgin Islands, territorial teacher-training aid, and Title IV desegregation assistance. (See Education Week, Aug. 24, 1983.)

On June 29, the Education Department advised administrators of these programs that it “could not guarantee” funding for the coming year and permitted them to carry over fiscal 1983 funds, once programs apply for the extension, a department spokesman said.

Last month, Judge Shadur agreed to a request by the Chicago board and released $6.5 million of the $66 million he had frozen, thus allowing the programs to continue operating through the end of August.

The $28.8 million Judge Shadur seeks by Aug. 22 includes $17 million from the Secretary of Education’s discretionary fund (one of those frozen) and $11.8 million from the fiscal 1984 budget for Title IV desegregation-assistance programs, which totals $24 million.

Decree Obligation at Issue

Judge Shadur’s Aug. 13 ruling reaffirmed his previous rulings--last year and again on July 8--that the federal government is obliged to pay some of the costs of the desegregation plan, which was drawn up pursuant to the consent decree. The settlement was negotiated toward6the end of the Carter Administration, but the desegregation plan was crafted during the Reagan Administration by the Chicago board and the Justice Department’s civil-rights division, which is headed by William Bradford Reynolds.

The consent decree obligates the Administraton and the Chicago school board “to make every good-faith effort” to finance the desegregation plan.

Constitutional Question

The Justice Department has objected to the finance section of the consent decree as interpreted by Judge Shadur. Contending that the section is “contrary to the public in-terest,” the department asked the judge on July 13 to order that the document be renegotiated. He rejected the request.

According to the department’s brief, the decree blurs the constitutional doctrine of the separation of powers by attempting “to shape national budgetary priorities for the indefinite future to the benefit of Chicago, and probably to the detriment of equally deserving school systems around the country.” The department said the decree also does not outline clearly enough the oblig-ations of the federal and local governments and thus “invites annual litigation.”

Approval, Not Funds

In January 1983, Mr. Reynolds, the assistant attorney general, said that Judge Shadur’s approval of the desegregation plan, which involves no mandatory student transportation, was “extremely encouraging.” He added that he hoped that the decision would “encourage similar voluntary measures to achieve desegregation.”

But the city subsequently sued the federal government for failing to provide it with adequate desegrega-tion aid under the consent decree. The board contended, in part, that the consolidation of the Emergency School Aid Act into the Chapter 2 education block-grants program in 1981 significantly reduced the amount of federal desegregation aid available to Chicago.

In his first ruling, Judge Shadur concurred that the sharp decrease in desegregation aid after the demise of esaa constituted a violation of the settlement.

Last September, the Seventh Circuit Court upheld the validity of the funding freeze. Shortly after the appeals court’s decision, the Congress provided $20 million in a fiscal 1984 spending bill for Chicago’s desegregation program at the urging of Representative Sidney R. Yates, Democrat of Illinois. That contribution led the judge to release $20 million he had impounded, in a dollar-for-dollar trade-off with the government.

The Congress is not likely to pass legislation this year providing Chicago with additional desegregation aid, officials close to the situation said last week. Representative Yates, who led the fight for aid to Chicago last year, said in an interview that he had no plans to offer a similar funding measure this year.

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 1984 edition of Education Week as Judge Again Orders U.S. To Fund Chicago Desegregation Efforts


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