Equity & Diversity

Mo. Loses Bid To End St. Louis Desegregation Plan

By Caroline Hendrie — October 08, 1997 2 min read

A federal appeals court has rejected Missouri’s latest bid to halt the St. Louis desegregation plan, which sends 13,000 inner-city black students to suburban schools and 1,500 white students into the city at state expense.

State Attorney General Jeremiah W. Nixon had sought to block the recruitment of new students into the interdistrict-transfer program--the largest of its kind in the country--while talks continue to settle the 25-year-old case.

A federal district judge had rebuffed Mr. Nixon’s effort, and on Sept. 25 a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld that ruling. The district court appointed a former university president in April 1996 to try to broker a settlement.

“We renew our encouragement to the parties to make every effort to resolve this matter so that students of all races will have a continuing equal opportunity for a quality, integrated education,” the panel wrote.

The decision came two weeks after Mr. Nixon unveiled a $304 million plan to settle the case. It called for the state to spend $102 million over six years to phase out the transfer program; $102 million to end subsidies of the city’s magnet schools; and $100 million to build 14 new schools and renovate others.

State Legislation Sought

Mr. Nixon’s decision to publicize the state’s offer was attacked by other parties in the case as a breach of confidentiality. William L. Taylor, a Washington lawyer representing the black plaintiffs, criticized Mr. Nixon for presenting it to the city school board but not the other parties.

As settlement efforts continue, all sides in the case are looking to the Missouri legislature to break the logjam. A joint committee is holding hearings on possible legislation to replace desegregation aid in St. Louis and Kansas City

In April, a federal judge approved a plan to phase out court-ordered state funding of Kansas City’s desegregation plan. (“Judge Decides State Funds for Desegregation To End in K.C.,” April 2, 1997.)

Under the transfer program, black St. Louis students attend schools in 16 predominantly white suburbs. The state says it has spent roughly $1.5 billion since the mid-1980s to implement the court order. Including transfers from the suburbs, about 42,000 students attend St. Louis’ public schools--nearly 80 percent of them black.

Amy Stuart Wells

“It’s a school choice program with a social conscience,” said Amy Stuart Wells, an associate professor in the graduate school of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is a co-author of a recent book on the St. Louis desegregation case. “It’s a program to give the most choice to the children who have historically had the least.”

But Mr. Nixon says such arguments miss the point. In his view, the state has long since remedied the effects of past segregation, and the time has come to build up city schools.

“We need to do something to revitalize these urban neighborhoods,” said John R. Munich, the state’s deputy attorney general. “Sending children out to the suburbs isn’t doing anything to build up those neighborhoods. It’s pulling those neighborhoods apart.”

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