Schenectady schools ready to file complaint about state funding

December 11, 2013
Updated 10:49 p.m.
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— After a year of letters, speeches, meetings and warnings, Schenectady’s schools superintendent is making good on his promise to pursue legal action against the state.

On Friday, Laurence Spring will personally deliver a civil rights complaint to the U.S. Department of Education. The complaint alleges the state has discriminated against school districts that have many minority students by giving them less funding than other districts.

Spring has analyzed the state’s aid to every district to back his allegations. The complaint also includes signatures and contact information for more than 70 co-complainants who want to tell investigators how they and their children were hurt by a lack of funding for Schenectady schools.

Spring isn’t just dropping the complaint off. An official from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights will meet with him at 11 a.m. Friday to receive the complaint and discuss it.

Kenneth Eastwood, superintendent of the Middletown Enlarged School District, will travel with Spring to deliver a similar complaint from his district. Eastwood said he thinks poor, non-white districts are receiving less aid for political reasons, not because of intentional discrimination.

“We do not believe New York state intends to discriminate, but it does,” he said in a news release. “The state’s method of distribution of funds has a discriminatory effect.”

He added that something must be done soon. “Without the benefit of a rigorous and effective education, we are unable to break the cycle of poverty and low-income circumstance,” he said.

Spring agreed, saying: “This situation is urgent. I am confident that the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights will thoroughly investigate the complaint and correct this inequity.”

It’s not clear how long the investigation will take.

At issue is how the state divvies up the money it budgets for schools. In 2007, after the state lost a 14-year court battle over school funding, legislators passed a budget reform act that was intended to fund districts at state-set levels by 2010.

The levels were based on the cost of providing a “sound, basic education” to children in the district, minus the amount property owners in the district could afford to pay. The state decided that it cost more to educate children living in entrenched poverty and that poor cities could not afford to pay for much of that education.

By those standards, Schenectady schools should receive far more state aid than they are receiving now — about $62 million more per year, under the state’s formula.

Most school districts are not receiving the amount the state formula says they should. However, Spring’s calculations indicate schools with more non-white students receive a much smaller percentage of their aid than predominantly white schools.

“This is not a school funding case — it’s an issue of discrimination,” Spring added.

“New York state implements an educational funding structure which discriminates against students of color, English language learners and students with special needs.”

 

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