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Little Rock, the Arkansas town that has become the symbol of the 1960s integration movement, is once again in a heated battle over desegregation.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday that the state of Arkansas cannot cut funding to mandated segregation programs in three Pulaski County school districts until a separate federal court hearing is held.
A lower court had earlier ended most of the payments, siding with state lawmakers who believed that the school districts were delaying desegregation efforts in order to continue receiving state money.
The Natural State has been paying $38 million a year to fund programs to support desegregation, such as magnet schools and transportation. The payments were the result of a 1989 settlement agreement in a desegregation lawsuit between the state and the three school districts. Lawmakers now claim the programs are wasteful and no longer necessary.
Although the Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court judge's ruling may have merit, it held that no "specific findings of fact" were made to support his decision to discharge Arkansas' obligation sua sponte.
Instead of instantly ending desegregation funding, the federal appeals court ruled that Arkansas must first move for relief from its funding obligations, triggering a formal hearing on the evidence and notice, before "the court terminates a constitutional violator's desegregation obligations."
The Eighth Circuit, however, did not guess as to the outcome of such a hearing. Arkansas' effort to obtain relief from its funding obligations will remain undecided until then. However, state officials remained optimistic about the potential results:
"The State continues to move positively toward ending this litigation and taking the courts out of the classrooms of Pulaski County," said Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.