On December 13, the school districts of Schenectady and Middletown filed civil rights complaints against the State of New York with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The complaints contend that New York’s current funding system has a discriminatory impact on districts like theirs, which are majority African American and Latino.
The data in the complaint reveal that New York State systematically underfunds districts with higher percentages of minority students. By contrast, the State has fulfilled its funding commitment under the 2007 foundation aid formula to predominately white, affluent districts. The complaint notes that majority minority districts are five times as likely as predominately white districts to be funded at 60% or less of the levels promised by the State in the 2007 school funding formula.
Passed in response to the landmark ruling in C.F.E. v. State, New York’s 2007 foundation aid formula was intended to remedy disparities in funding between needy and less needy districts. The formula was designed to be responsive to both student need and a district’s ability to raise revenue. However, since 2009, the State has reneged on its obligation under both C.F.E. and the 2007 formula. Moreover, the State has instituted mechanisms that lock in inequities in funding.
Both Schenectady and Middletown are economically challenged districts. In addition, over 70% of the students in these districts are eligible for free and reduced lunch. The districts also have significant numbers of English language learners and students with disabilities. These students, for whom adequate resources are necessary for educational success, are most harmed by the State’s persistent and systematic underfunding.
“New York State implements an educational funding structure which discriminates against students of color, English language learners and students with special needs,” said Schenectady Superintendent Laurence Spring.
“Without the benefit of a rigorous and effective education, we are unable to break the cycle of poverty and low-income circumstance,” said Kenneth Eastwood, Middletown’s Superintendent.
Noting the dire situation in both districts, Spring added, “Something has to be done now. This situation is urgent.”
“This complaint underscores the need for the State to immediately restore its commitment to fully fund the 2007 foundation aid formula,” said Wendy Lecker, Senior Attorney for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Project at Education Law Center. “The State’s inexcusable underfunding of public schools is preventing the neediest students from receiving the services and resources they desperately need to obtain a sound basic education as guaranteed under the State constitution.”
The core mission of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Project at Education Law Center is to advance the rights of all children in New York to a sound basic and quality education. The CFE Project advocates for the implementation of adequate and equitable school funding to comply with New York’s constitutional mandate.
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