City school district officials will bring their fight for equal funding to the U.S. Department of Justice after the federal Department of Education dismissed their civil rights complaint for lack of jurisdiction.
Superintendent Larry Spring received notification from the education department's Office for Civil Rights today. In dismissing the complaint, the office found that New York, the state Legislature and governor — each listed in the school district's filing — are not recipients of financial assistance from the education department, meaning it has no jurisdiction.
Spring vowed to bring the complaint, originally filed in mid-December, to the next level. He remains hopeful the district will prevail with the justice department.
“While we are disappointed that the Office for Civil Rights does not have jurisdiction in this case, we are not discouraged,” he said in a statement. “Our complaint regarding school funding and the consequential discriminatory impact clearly exists.”
The complaint alleges New York’s methods for distributing education aid has discriminatory impact on minority and non-English speaking students. The district believes the disparity caused by the state’s method of funding schools violates federal law.
“Our next step is to get it to the right place,” Spring said. “We will continue to press for what is right, what is fair and what is lawful.”
In New York, this issue has already gone through the court system. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity spearheaded a 13-year court battle that led to a state aid formula intended to fairly distribute the aid each school district receives to educate its students. Districts were rated based on the cost of educating their students and the ability of their property owners to pay for that education. Cities with entrenched poverty, like Schenectady, were rated as needing the most aid, since poor students are considered more expensive to educate, and poor property owners can pay for less of that education. State officials agreed increase aid payments over a four-year period, with every district anticipated to have the amount of money considered necessary for a "sound, basic education” by 2010. Yet districts today still fail to receive the amount of aid perscribed to them under the state formula.
Spring has estimated that districts with large non-white populations receive a much smaller percentage of aid than predominantly white schools.
Spring said the district submitted the complaint to the education department as a first step, realizing the Office of Civil Rights wouldn't touch the complaint if it were simultaneously being investigated by the justice department. The revised complaint will ask federal officials to investigate the issue of discrimination, order appropriate relief and correct the violations of law.
Spring wasn't entirely surprised by the outcome and pledged to file the new complaint in short order. He said he was hopeful the education department would investigate the district's claims, while also looking ahead toward the next step in the process.
“I knew we had to have a larger plan,” he said.