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Judge’s ruling ends Kansas City desegregation program

March 26, 1997

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A judge’s ruling will end the nation’s costliest desegregation program, which offered students overseas trips and swimming pools in an effort to boost white enrollment.

U.S. District Judge Russell Clark on Tuesday approved an agreement by the state to pay nearly $320 million to the Kansas City School District, with payments ending in June 1999. However, the judge did not rule that the district was fully integrated, saying that required more effort from school officials.

He also suggested _ but did not order _ that the state stay involved by overseeing the school district’s budget.

More than $1.6 billion has been spent on the court-ordered program over the past 10 years, with the state bearing most of the cost because Missouri formerly required racially segregated schools.

Attorney General Jay Nixon, who has led efforts to end the state’s involvement, was pleased with Clark’s decision.

``This ruling ensures a smooth transition that’s in the best of interest of the kids,″ Nixon said.

The desegregation program was designed to attract white children from surrounding suburbs to the 37,000-student district. But in 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the district could not transport or recruit white students because the suburban districts were not responsible for segregation.

The magnet program has included schools focused on specialized themes like environmental science or a foreign language. Some have argued that too much money was being spent on perks such as field trips overseas and an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Clark said the three years that remain for state funding should be enough time for the district to erase the vestiges of desegregation. He said the district should plan on being self-sufficient at that time.

But Clark said the school district still currently has remnants of discrimination. He cited continuing imbalance between achievement test scores of minority and white students, racial makeup of the schools, facilities, transportation and the assignment of students and faculty.

That pleased Jamie Lansford, an attorney with Arthur Benson II, who had fought to continue state funding because of segregation problems.

``(The ruling) is a recognition that just by entering the agreement, the district is not necessarily excused from litigation,″ Lansford said. ``It’s pretty clear that he still expects (integration) is going to be done.″

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