Desegregation falls in lap of state government, and so does the tab

State governments may be forced to share more of the responsibility for seeing that schools are desegregated -- and pay more of the costs. This could be the outcome of a current court battle over desegregating public schools in St. Louis.

Citing the US Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, US District Court Judge James H. Meredith ruled this month that the State of Missouri -- and not city, county, or school district administrations -- bears primary responsibility for the continuing school segregation here.

Judge Meredith also ordered the state to pay at least half the cost of the city's desegregation program in the years ahead -- starting with $11 million of the estimated $22 million needed for the 1980-81 school year.

The desegregation suit, first filed in 1972, has only included the state as a defendant since 1977. But now the judge has blamed the state for failure to initiate positive action. "I can't say what Missouri should have done, but in other cases what the state did was to cut off state funds to local school districts or even to sue local school boards to get a judgment against segregative practices," the judge explained. He added that "essentially, the state had the obligation to stamp out segregation."

Judge Meredith's order also gives St. Louis and the State of Missouri a July 14 deadline to come up with an acceptable plan for voluntary busing. Currently officials from county schools in the St. Louis area are meeting with city, state , and US Justice Department representatives. The goal is a voluntary program to attract suburban white students into city schools -- where 70 percent of the 66, 000 pupils are black.

The city has studied school programs in Milwaukee, Louisville, Columbus, and Boston designed to encourage voluntary desegregation, and is expanding its magnet schools program from 11 to 16 schools in September.

Whether outlying school districts agree to a voluntary metropolitan desegregation plan will not depend only on new facilities, smaller classes, and better teaching in St. Louis schools. Another incentive is the threat that if county schools do not agree to voluntary busing, mandatory busing will be ordered.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has plans under way to sue county district schools for failing to support the city desegregation program.

Jesse Jackson, the Chicago-based head of the national Operation PUSH organization, visited St. Louis last week urging the city to develop a metropolitan solution to a problem which he said cannot be solved by cities on their own.

Politicians here say that the busing threat has turned St. Louis desegregation into a major campaign issue at the local, state, and federal levels.

Former Missouri Gov. Christopher Bond, now campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor, says the state should encourage voluntary busing and should support it financially. The other Republican contender for governor, Lt. Gov. William Phelps, argues that voluntary busing would be a first step toward voluntary busing would be a first step toward mandatory and more widespread busing. He blames the federal government more than the state for continued segregation and sees busing as a vain attempt to solve a problem which is far larger than the school system.

The two Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Gov. Joseph Teasdale and state Treasurer James Spainhower, have attempted to keep busing out of the campaign. They say only that the issue is best left to the courts.

Kansas Gov. John Carlin takes the same attitude toward a desegregation suit brought against the Topeka schools -- another case in which the state is being held responsible for taking direct action to eliminate school segregation.

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