|Office for Civil Rights will investigate two
NY school district claims of school funding discrimination
Two upstate New York State school districts, both of which filed similar discrimination complaints, were notified last week by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) that the federal agency will be opening the complaints and conducting an investigation.
Nearly one year ago, Dr. Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent of the Middletown City School District and Larry Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, together hand-delivered formal complaints to OCR officials in the New York City office.
The complaint, filed against the State of New York, New York State Legislature, Governor of New York, state comptroller, New York State Board of Regents and New York State Education Department, argued that the funding structure implemented by New York State results in discrimination against school districts with predominantly non-white student populations, English language learner students and students with disabilities.
Earlier this year, OCR responded that the agency does not have jurisdiction over some of the parties named and would not proceed with the investigation in regard to those parties. OCR did indicate that they were still considering the complaint against NYSED and the Board of Regents. Both Eastwood and Spring, both anxiously waiting for the determination for several months, were thrilled to learn that OCR officials decided that the allegation of discrimination against non-white students is appropriate for investigation. Since NYSED and the Board of Regents are recipients of financial assistance from OCR, the office has jurisdictional authority to investigate.
While the superintendents are encouraged by OCR’s response, they have both expressed frustration over the measures that had to be taken and lack of response from elected leaders.
When Spring and Eastwood met with federal officials last December, they were told that this is the first time the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights would be considering a complaint of this kind from a school district. The only other complaint similar to the one filed by these two districts was filed in Texas. According to officials, the complainant withdrew to pursue action in court.
“Yes, I’d say it’s ground-breaking,” said Spring. “I was cautiously optimistic that OCR would open it and investigate. It’s the right thing to do. Hopefully, change will result from it.”
Some New York school districts receive 100 percent or more of the aid they are entitled. Some receive close to the amounts they are entitled. Then there are those who are receiving significantly less than they are entitled to receive.
Schenectady and Middletown school districts are among the eight percent of the school districts with minority-as majority student populations. They are also among the districts that are significantly short-changed and receiving the low percentages of what they should be receiving when it comes to the distribution of Foundation Aid. Spring and Eastwood agree that the data speaks for itself. The funding levels fall at disproportionately high rates for districts with a non-white majority.
It wasn’t long after Spring started studying the statewide funding data, that he uncovered the racial disparity. He was outraged to learn that the whiter a school district’s population, the more likely the district is to receive a higher percentage of their total Foundation Aid. “It’s a fact that school districts with higher concentrations of minority students are systemically underfunded,” said Spring. “I can’t see how any agency will investigate this and find it acceptable.”
The complaint requests that OCR fully investigate the claim, correct the violations of law and order appropriate relief.
Recent notification from OCR states that the agency will collect and analyze relevant evidence. OCR’s goal is the prompt and appropriate resolution of the allegations contained in the complaint.
OCR notification did not include a timeline or deadline but did state that the office will continue to communicate and provide updates on the status of the complaint.
The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights is moving forward with an investigation into the Schenectady City School District's complaint against the state over the distribution of education aid. Read more