The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights will be investigating complaints brought forth by two New York school districts that say the state’s funding structure for public schools discriminates against districts with high concentrations of people of color, students whose first language is not English, and students with disabilities.
The complaints were originally brought forth almost a year ago by the superintendents of Middletown City School District and Schenectady City School District.
The OCR first responded that they could not go forward with an investigation because it did not have jurisdiction over some of the parties involved in the complaint. The complaint is against New York state, the state legislature, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, the state Board of Regents and the state Education Department.
Now, the investigation will move forward, focusing on the Board of Regents and the Education Department, since the OCR has jurisdiction in those areas.
The Schenectady City complaint is here.
The Schenectady City superintendent says he can't believe any independent entity could look into the funding in New York State and see it as anything other than a problem:
"Yes, I'd say it's ground-breaking," Superintendent for Schenectady City Schools Larry Spring said. "I was cautiously optimistic that OCR would open it and investigate. It's the right thing to do. Hopefully, change will result from it."
According to a press release from the Schenectady School District, when Spring and Middletown Superintendant Kenneth Eastwood met with the Department of Education, the federal agency told them these complaints will be the first of their kind the Office for Civil Rights has investigated. A similar complaint was filed in Texas but was withdrawn to pursue the issue in court.
The release states that Schenectady and Middletown schools are among the 8 percent of schools in the state with minority-as majority student populations and are also shorted funding they are owed through the Foundation Aid Formula, which is funding required under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decision, which states that schools must be funded sufficiently to provide a sound basic education.
"It's a fact that school districts with higher concentrations of minority students are systemically underfunded," Spring said. "I can't see how any agency will investigate this and find it acceptable."
It's a shame that Cuomo and the legislature aren't a target of the investigation, since they're really the people behind the funding problems, but we'll have to take the investigation into NYSED and the Board of Regents for now.