Buses park outside the Fine Arts Wing at Schenectady High School after school on April 9.
SCHENECTADY When state education aid is doled out each year, it’s better to have white students than black and Hispanic students, alleges a complaint by the Schenectady City School District.
In the next few weeks, Schenectady schools Superintendent Laurence Spring plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, arguing the state’s funding for education is discriminatory because districts with a majority of minority students receive a smaller portion of the aid they’re due than districts with a majority of white students. The complaint is based on the difference between mandated state funding levels and what is actually received by districts.
The Schenectady school district received about 54 percent of what it was due this year, leaving a $60 million shortfall, according to the district.
School and community members are invited to a meeting about the complaint at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Central Park International Magnet School. Attendees will have an opportunity to sign the complaint. A copy of the complaint is available on the Capital Region Scene.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state Legislature, the state Education Department and the state Board of Regents are all named in the complaint, which asks the federal government to investigate the state’s education funding formula and help secure an increase in state aid for affected districts.
The complaint stems from a foundation formula, born out of a 2006 state Court of Appeals ruling, that established how much money the state and local taxpayers should contribute to a school district in order to ensure an adequate education for students.
Based on that formula, Spring said about 135 districts receive more than 100 percent of the state aid they’re owed and about 500 districts receive less than they’re owed.
Looking at how much aid each district has received and that district’s demographic data, he concluded, “The higher percentage of white students in the district, the more likely the district was getting a higher percentage of that foundation formula.”
“Few districts with a majority minority population are getting anywhere close to the median level of aid,” he said.
In the case of Schenectady, this has meant increasing the burden on local property taxpayers and funding the district with less than is needed to appropriately educate its students, Spring contends.
The governor’s office and state Education Department wouldn’t comment on the pending complaint, but Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn highlighted the efforts of the state Board of Regents in support of equitable funding. In an attempt to help needy school districts, Cuomo pushed for and got an additional $1 billion for education aid in this year’s budget.
Despite the increase, districts were still shortchanged, a problem the state has had for more than five years. The waning days of each budget season in recent years have included protests from school districts calling for more funding.
Spring said filing a complaint with the federal government is the appropriate course of action where discrimination might not be intended, but is the result.