|Updated: 3/26/2012 9:00 pm
||Published: 3/26/2012 3:39 pm
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked a federal judge on Monday to end a desegregation settlement agreement with three Little Rock-area school districts that has required the state to pay the schools more than $1 billion since 1989.
McDaniel requested that the state be released from its agreement with the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts. The attorney general's office argued the payments are no longer necessary because North Little Rock and Little Rock have been declared fully unitary - or substantially desegregated - and Pulaski County schools have been declared partially unitary.
"It is time to end the 1989 settlement agreement and the desegregation litigation that has embroiled Pulaski County and the state of Arkansas for nearly 60 years," McDaniel said in a brief filed with the U.S. District Court.
A federal appeals court last year ruled a judge was wrong to cut off desegregation payments because the state had not specifically asked for them to end.
Arkansas is required by a 1989 settlement to fund magnet schools, transfers between districts and other programs to support desegregation and keep a racial balance in the three school districts. Those costs add up to about $70 million a year, McDaniel wrote in the brief.
"It should be up for the people of Arkansas, through their designated representatives, to decide how this $70 million each year in state tax dollars should be used to address the problems of today," McDaniel wrote.
Attorneys for the districts said they weren't surprised by the request, since the state has long said it wants to end the desegregation payments.
The Little Rock desegregation fight dates back to 1957, when nine black teenagers needed the protection of federal troops to integrate Central High School. Little Rock sued the state and its two neighboring districts in 1982. Two years later, a judge agreed the districts hadn't done enough to help the city schools desegregate.
The state seemed on the verge of ending the obligations last May, when a federal judge ruled the state could end most of the $70 million due to the Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision in December and said the state must ask before a judge could end the payments.
Stephen Jones, an attorney for North Little Rock schools, said the agreement shouldn't end just because the districts have achieved unitary status.
"The purpose of the 1989 settlement agreement was not necessarily to get the three school districts unitary, at least where the state's concerned. The state's involvement was predicated on the need to remediate the state's residential segregation that it had caused," Jones said. "I don't see that the residential segregation at this point has been remediated to a point that if you terminate these programs, it won't have a negative effect on the districts."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Statement from PCSSD:
The motion filed today by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel calls for the immediate release of the State of all obligations under the 1989 Settlement Agreement. In particular, the State asks that desegregation funding be withdrawn immediately. PCSSD is committed to achieve Unitary Status and is working to do so. We agree that funding associated with desegregation programming and services should be withdrawn but in a descending funding stream over a period of years.