Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009
The Nixon Years: The Supreme Court and Desegregation, 1974
In 1974, the Supreme Court's consideration of racial segregation continued in the case of Milliken v. Bradley, which involved the public schools of Detroit and surrounding suburbs. In this case, the court's recent pro-active approach to racial desegregation came to an abrupt end-partly as a result of the concerns that Powell and others had raised in Keyes. While maintaining that officials in Detroit had an "affirmative duty" to pursue racial balance in the city's public schools, the court in Milliken denied the city's request to include the surrounding suburbs in its busing plan. Instead, the court insisted that the boundaries of the city formed the outer limits of any desegregation order. In lieu of any "metropolitan" busing plan that the city might propose as a way to ensure racial balance in its public schools, the court instead ordered the city to equalize educational opportunity by spending more money on compensatory education programs for low-income minority student in the inner city. In effect, the court ordered Detroit to pursue compensatory education as a substitute for racial integration (a strategy the Nixon administration had long endorsed).
The Milliken decision reflected the growing tension-among the public as well as members of Congress-over the issue of court-ordered busing. In February, 1974, partly in reaction to the Milliken decision, the Democrat-controlled Congress passed a so-called Equal Educational Opportunity Act, which stated that, "after June 30, 1974, no court of the United States shall order the implementation of any plan to remedy a finding of de jure segregation which involves the transportation of students, unless the court first finds that all alternative remedies [including compensatory education] are inadequate." The Equal Educational Opportunity Act also stipulated that "no provision of this act shall be construed to require the assignment or transportation of students or teachers in order to overcome racial imbalance." To enforce these provisions, Congress barred the use of federal funds to pay for court-ordered busing. (Two years earlier, Congress passed the Emergency School Aid Act, which helped local schools implement voluntary programs to facilitate desegregation. Magnet schools, for example, received substantial financial aid under the ESAA to add courses in specific subjects and thereby draw white students into predominantly minority schools.)