The Education Dept. publishes guidance reminding schools, districts and states that they can run afoul of federal civil rights laws if they are not providing adequate resources and funding for minority and disadvantaged students.
The guidance is intended to put schools on notice that they need to provide equal resources for poor students and their better off counterparts. The Ed’s Office For Civil Rights will be looking at spending and resource equity across all student programs, from teacher pay to Advanced Placement courses.
The guidance, in the form of a “Dear Colleague” letter, marks the first time the issue has been formally addressed by Obama’s DoEd.
School must make sure they are provide equal access to educational opportunities, such as Advanced Placement courses, gifted and talented programs, college-preparatory programs, and extra-curricular activities. Of schools serving the highest percentages of black and Latino students, only 66% and 74% offer chemistry and Algebra 2, respectively, according to the federal civil rights data collection.
Districts must ensure they have good teachers in all classrooms, measured by factors such as turnover, absenteeism and professional development. Nearly 7% of black students attend schools where more than 20% of teachers hadn’t yet met all state certification requirements. That figure was four times higher than for white students.
Such disparities may be indicative of broader discriminatory policies or practices, the letter said. For example, teachers in high schools serving the highest percentage of black and Latino students during the 2011-12 school year were paid on average $1,913 less per year than their colleagues in other schools within the same district that serve the lowest percentage of black and Latino students.
These disparities are often a result of funding systems that allocate less state and local funds to high-poverty schools that frequently have more students of color, which can often be traced to a reliance on property tax revenue for school funding, the letter says. Federal funds provided through Title I are designed to provide additional resources on top of state and local funds for the education of disadvantaged, minority or needy children
However, current Title I comparability provision has loopholes that allow districts to mask spending disparities between schools, the letter says. More than 40% of schools that received federal Title I funding to serve disadvantaged students spent less state and local funding on teachers and other personnel than non-Title I schools at the same grade level in the same school district.
Schools must also ensure equal access to school facilities, like athletic facilities and science labs, and technology, including laptops, tablets, the internet, and instructional materials, such as calculators and library books.
DoEd made clear that pleading a lack of funding will not be looked upon kindly.
“Ensuring the nondiscriminatory allocation of and access to physical resources such as technology, instructional materials, and, particularly, facilities across school districts may require significant financial investment from the district, which may not always be readily available,” says Catherine Lhamon, DoEd assistant secretary for Civil Rights. “Lack of funding is not a defense for noncompliance with federal civil rights obligations. Therefore, if a violation is found, a district will be expected to put in place a clear plan for remedying the inequality in a timely fashion.”