Education Week - June 1, 2016 - (Page 22)

GOVERNMENT & POLITICS Report Feeds Into Debate Over Racial, Economic Inequities By Andrew Ujifusa One of the newest education policy disputes in Washington is beginning to mix with one of its oldest. Discussions about inequitable resources between well-resourced schools and their poorer counterparts overlap with fresh calls to address the growing share of schools that are both economically and racially segregated. The same week that a fight escalated between the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and the Senate education committee chairman, over the equity of school spending, the Government Accountability Office released a report showing that the proportion of schools with outsized shares of students in poverty who are also students of color roughly doubled from 2000 to 2014, and that students in these schools receive more-constricted academic offerings. Defending his department's efforts to ensure a more equitable distribution of state and local funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Education Secretary John B. King Jr. stressed that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (of which ESSA is the latest version) must be used to ensure greater educational opportunities and resources for students of color as well as those from low-income backgrounds. "It was a civil rights law then and it is now," King said during a meeting last month with reporters. At King's side during that meeting was Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She highlighted the GAO report as evidence that the promise of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring segregated schools to be unconstitutional was being subverted. The progress made from the decision peaked in the 1980s "and has since then eroded," Clarke said. (The GAO report was released 62 years to the day after the Brown ruling.) Civil Rights Concerns Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, the top Democrat on the House education committee who requested and presented the GAO report, said he was introducing federal legislation to make it easier for individuals to take civil action against what they believe to be violations of provisions in the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. "They're certainly not at all different," said Liz King, the director of education policy at the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, referring to federal spending rules in the works designed to increase spending equity and its connection to school segregation. "Low-income white students are not getting the quality of education that they deserve. But it is also the case that minority students in poverty experience both racism and experience barriers because of their low family income." Not everyone is enamored with the idea that school desegregation should be the moral and policy imperative that policymakers and schools use to address funding and other inequities students of color face. They've raised questions about whether the growth of segregated schools in particular is overstated, and whether regulations to require more resource equity between schools within districts are a misguided solution for improving the opportunities and outcomes for students of color. Socioeconomically integrated and diverse schools, the education secretary consistently has said in recent months, are powerful tools for helping disadvantaged children. Persistent Disparities The funding fight in Washington is over the requirement that federal aid for low-income students is an additional resource for districts, not to be used to fill in gaps left by state and local funding systems. In essence, the Education Department wants rules creating more equalization between Title I schools, those serving relatively large shares of students from poor households, and wealthier, non-Title I schools, on a per-pupil-spending basis. In a discussion at a recent federal Civil Rights Commission meeting, Ary Amerikaner, a deputy assistant secretary at the Education Department who has helped to craft the regulations, which are expected to be released later this year, noted that one-quarter of districts getting Title I aid spend fewer state and local dollars on schools with the biggest share of students in poverty than those with the lowest poverty levels, a situation that she stressed "cuts against both common sense and basic fairness." "It also undercuts the purpose of Title I," Amerikaner said. National Education Association Vice President Becky Pringle attacked the "institutional racism" she said persists 60 years after the Brown ruling. This helps to create "persistent disparities in funding for socioeconomically and racially segregated schools" in the United States, Pringle said: "Our nation has never provided sustained, adequate, and equitable funding in our communities of greatest need." Meanwhile, the GAO report finds that the share of public schools in which 75 percent to 100 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and also in which that same percentage of students are either black or Hispanic, nearly doubled from the 2000-01 academic year to 2013-14-from 9 School Finance Suits: More Than Just a Legal Roll of the Dice? For district leaders, suing states over school finance formulas may seem like a high-stakes gamble on where judges will come down, as high-profile decisions with very different outcomes in Texas, Kansas, and Washington state suggest. But in reality, the fate of these challenges is far from random, hinging instead on plaintiffs' ability to prove that those formulas abide by the specifics-and ambiguities-of each state's constitution, legal scholars say. Both Kansas' and Washington's Supreme Courts ruled their school aid formulas unconstitutional, while the Texas high court said that its state formula met constitutional standards, and that the specifics of education funding were for the legislature to decide. Such highly charged cases can set up fierce battles between courts and legislators, including proposals to strip courts of their authority over funding matters, calls for elected rather than appointed justices, and constitutional amendments addressing the school finance debate. And the lawsuits highlight the knotty definitions of such terms as "suitable" and "efficient" education funding embedded in state constitutions. Legal Landscape In at least 23 states since 1950, judges have ruled that the state's school finance formula was uncon- Eric Gay/AP-File By Daarel Burnette II Richard Gray, representing the Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition, argues before the Texas Supreme Court in a lawsuit by more than 600 school districts challenging the state's school finance formula. The court in May upheld the state's funding, finding that it met "minimal" constitutional standards. stitutional, according to Michael Rebell, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who tracks such cases. In 17 other states, judges have found that the formulas passed constitutional muster or that it was not their role to figure that out. "I think there's a clash of cultures 22 | EDUCATION WEEK | June 1, 2016 | from the judicial perspective and the world from which politicians live," said Richard E. Levy, a legal scholar at the University of Kansas who studies constitutional law. "Constitutional law is full of principles and following things to their logical conclusions. You find a constitutional deficiency and you fix it. "But legislators don't like being told that they have to come up with additional money, raise taxes, or cut programs," he said. "It's not desirable from a political point of view." Legislators increasingly argue that school funding formulas- complex calculations that delin- eate how many tax dollars are delivered each year to which districts-should be solely crafted by the legislature, and that judges are ill-equipped to scrutinize the academic impact of state aid formulas. "I've seen what's going on across the states,where judges are stepping in and trying to become the

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - June 1, 2016

Education Week - June 1, 2016
In Special Education, A Debate on Bias
Proposed ESSA Rules Aim to Strike Balance
Civil Rights Office Gets Aggressive
Charter Movement Fuels Boom For Public Montessori Schools
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Transgender Debate: What’s Next?
Free Website Expands on EngageNY’s Mission
Study on Teacher Test Finds Mixed Results
Blogs of the Week
Digital Learning Games Breaking Into K-12 Mainstream
Girls Outperform Boys on First National Test of Tech, Engineering
Oregon Creates a ‘Lens’ for Viewing Educational Equity
High School Takes Cue From Montessori
School Finance Suits: More Than Just a Legal Roll of the Dice?
Report Feeds Into Debate Over Racial, Economic Inequities
Blogs of the Week
Policing Girls of Color in School
The Plight of Black Girls in K-12 Schools
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Black Girls, Discipline, and Schools

Education Week - June 1, 2016