The line is open; Little Rock school case argued | Arkansas Blog

Monday, September 19, 2011

The line is open; Little Rock school case argued

Posted By on Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 4:38 PM

Another Monday. Kind of a busy one. Closing notes:

* LEGISLATURE: I'm not going to try to keep up with all legislative races, but will mention them as the mood strikes, particularly when close to home. Today, Patti Julian of North Little Rock, a lawyer with a long list of school and civic connections, announced for the House seat currently held by Barry Hyde. He's running for Senate. She's a Democrat.

* BURNING BED: Is someone still properly called a woman's boyfriend if she has poured Coleman fuel over him and set him on fire?

* THE LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL CASE: The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals makes podcasts of its oral arguments. Thus, you can listen to arguments today in the case in which the state is trying to defend Judge Brian Miller's surprise ruling to end $70 million a year in state desegregation aid to the school districts in Pulaski County for magnet schools and transfer programs. You can go to this link to play the podcast.

Some notes on the argument follow on the jump. If I were to guess, based on questioning, I'd say judges are of a mind to send this case back to the district court for more hearings on the desegregation funding question, which only would make sense. Scott Richardson, arguing for the state attorney general, got worked over by judges pretty good, mostly with points raised by the Little Rock School District in its brief.

Little Rock's attorney Chris Heller repeated his contention that the ruling to end aid came without argument or warning and that Miller himself had said the issues before the court were whether Pulaski County and North Little Rock had met desegregation goals. Little Rock had already been declared "unitary," or desegregated. Was the funding mentioned in the hearing, a judge asked? No, Heller said.

So what does the court do if Heller is right, another judge asked. Does the case go on for the next 50 years? "Where are we at?"

Heller said the issue should go back to district court hearings on a properly filed motion by the state to end its payments.

Asked another judge: Would it make sense to continue the stay and remand the case to Judge Price Marshall to consider along with other issues he's already considering, such as the challenge of state approval of charter schools?
Heller agreed.

Heller also said in response to a question that the Little Rock district doesn't argue that the state is obligated perpetually to provide desegregation funding. But he did argue that the state had been found liable for more than its actions in the Little Rock Central crisis, including promoting segregated housing.

The attorney general's office argued that the state funding was mentioned in the lower court hearing, at least insofar as the judge's observation that declaration of unitary status could lead to loss of state support. Richardson skipped over the fact that two districts haven't been declared unitary. A judge questioned the notion, however, that the discontinuation of a relatively small sum of money (in the overall school budgets) would discourage desegregation efforts. If the money doesn't induce good behavior, how would the LOSS of the money induce good behavior, the judge asked. The judges noted to Richardson that the state itself had objected to a discussion of state funding at that moment and that the district court had said explicitly that was for another day.

Judge to state of Arkansas: "Wasn't it clear to everybody you were going to decide unitary status and have another hearing to decide what to do about the funding?"

The state complained, too, about Little Rock complaints about charter schools when they didn't exist when the school settlement was reached. (No, but the state promised not to promote segregation and it has done so with charter school establishment.) A judge remonstrated the state to "forget about its gripe" about the charter schools. That's for another day, the judge said.

One judge also suggested the state might have made a bad deal in 1990 by not including a clear termination in the settlement. Yet another judge noted the state had been resistant to meeting portions of the settlement.

Same old story. Arkansas doesn't bring a lot of cred to arguments before the 8th Circuit after a half-century of resistance, the latest being its efforts to create charter schools to encourage flight from the LRSD.

Stephens Jones, for North Little Rock, and Sam Jones, for Pulaski, argued that their districts had achieved unitary status in North Little Rock's case and had made progress in Pulaski's case. North Little Rock got some pushback from a judge who seemed to adopt the lower court finding that North Little Rock had not documented its purported effort to improve the racial composition of its workforce.

Sam Jones acknowledged that Pulaski hadn't yet achieved all the targets to which it had committed but had made a good effort and that circumstances might have changed sufficiently to question whether the targets still must be met. In short, Pulaski is doing better in many areas than some other districts that have been declared unitary.

Joshua intervenors argued that the Pulaski and North Little Rock districts had fallen short of substantial compliance with the desegregation plan. They also argued for continuation of state support for interdistrict transfer programs.

One judge, after hearing a defense of the Pulaski district, took note of a news article about the case that quoted a law professor about court weariness with deseg cases. He observed that they might also be weary with school board "intransigence" in meeting terms of court decrees. You could say the same about the state of Arkansas.

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