(CN) – The 8th Circuit has stayed a ruling that cut off nearly $1 billion in desegregation funding for three Little Rock-area school districts that have made little progress, despite a stinging dissent that called the school districts “wise mules” that need a “heavy stick.”
In a one paragraph order on Tuesday, the St. Louis-based federal appeals court halted U.S. District Judge Brian Miller’s cuts to about $70 million in annual payments that Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special school districts receive for desegregation programs.
In total, Arkansas has dolled out more than $980 million in desegregation funds to the districts since 1989.
Miller, who wasn’t impressed with “appalling” and “mindless” witness testimony, called the payments a “carrot and stick approach.”
“The districts are wise mules that have learned how to eat the carrot and sit down on the job. … The time has finally come for all carrots to be put away. These mules must now either pull their proverbial carts on their own or face a very heavy and punitive stick,” he wrote.
Although the funding is meant to ensure that the districts meet benchmarks in staff recruitment, student assignment, discipline and a host of other areas, they fail to do so and yet keep collecting state aid, Miller said.
“It is very easy to conclude that few if any of the participants in this case have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children,” Miller added.
Miller’s ruling protected about $21 million in annual majority-to-minority transfer aid, which holds that students within the districts may transfer out of a school where their race is the majority to a school where they are in the minority.
As the school districts appeal that decision, the 8th Circuit will allow them to receive the whole of the funding that has been at issue since 1957, the year the U.S. troops escorted nine black students into all-white Central High School, part of the Little Rock School District.
The school districts, which serve about 50,000 students, claimed that Miller’s budget crunch would lead to teacher layoffs and program cuts and asked the appeals court for an expedited ruling, but the 8th Circuit rejected the request.
Arkansas must fund the districts through the appeals process, the 8th Circuit ordered, which may stretch into the fall.