State won't fix flawed school aid formula, so maybe the feds will
It should be reassuring -- to Schenectady school parents, students and taxpayers, if not those in neighboring districts, anyway -- that Superintendent Laurence Spring has decided to elevate his fight for equitable aid to the federal level. He's got a good case, and it's too important -- not just to Schenectady, but other underfunded inner-city districts -- to walk away just because the state Legislature isn't willing to give it due consideration.
The Legislature has virtually ignored a state court order resulting from the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit several years ago. And lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have virtually ignored Spring as he's made his case that Schenectady schools -- which have a disproportionate share of poor children -- aren't getting anywhere near their fair share of state aid .
Perhaps not coincidentally, those poor kids are largely from minority families. So Spring has contacted the federal Office for Civil Rights, which he says has encouraged him to file a federal complaint against the state so it can investigate the possibility these minority students' civil rights are being violated. As Spring says, proceeding in this fashion may be the only way for the district to get its due because the people being shortchanged don't have much political clout.
And even though some legislators who represent Schenectady are sympathetic to its cause, they're also reluctant to make a lot of noise because they also represent suburban districts, which presumably would get less aid if Schenectady were to get more. No one thinks their aid should get cut.
But the statistics clearly indicate Schenectady isn't getting its fair share (which is undoubtedly part of the reason its schools have been underperforming for years). For starters, its combined wealth ratio (housing values and income) is the lowest in the Capital Region, yet it receives just 54 percent of what the state formula dictates; meanwhile, far wealthier suburban school districts (like Burnt Hills and Guilderland) are getting much closer to their due amount (89 percent and 73 percent, respectively).
Whether this constitutes racism -- unintentional or otherwise -- may be harder to prove, but again, the statistics seem compelling: Of the state's 55 minority districts, for example, only 11 (20 percent) receive at least the median aid , while 44 (80 percent) receive less. According to Spring, minority districts are three times more likely than white districts to be underfunded.
Spring has enlisted another minority school district, in Middletown, to join him in his effort. We hope others do so as well, and that this issue can be settled fairly, as it deserves to be, instead of ignored for political reasons.