Schenectady Superintendent, Larry Spring, Alleges New York School-Funding Discriminates Against Blacks

The superintendent for Schenectady schools Larry Spring
ALBANY—The superintendent for Schenectady schools wants the federal government to intervene in what he argues is racial discrimination in how New York funds education.

Larry Spring, who leads the small city school district north of Albany, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice against the governor's and comptroller's offices and the Legislature, arguing that Schenectady, a district with mostly minority students, gets a lower percentage of the state aid it is owed under state funding formulas than districts with mostly white students.

“New York has promised its school districts a minimum amount of state aid in order to ensure that each district is able to provide basic instruction to its students,” according tothe complaint, which was filed on Friday. “Currently, however, a school district's likelihood of receiving the full measure of state educational aid that it has been promised, and consequently, the likelihood that a district is adequately funded, is directly correlated to whether the district serves predominantly white students. The disparity between the percentage of required aid received by predominantly white districts and the percentage received by 'minority-as-majority' districts is too significant to be coincidental.”

It is the second time Spring has sought the federal government's help. First, he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. But because the complaint named the governor, comptroller and the Legislature, federal education officials would have no recourse against them. The department's only tool would be to withhold funding, and it does not provide funding to those entities. So Spring went to the justice department instead, he said.


“I would hope that the Department of Justice will investigate, and I think that if they take a look at the data, they will find the way in which New York state is implementing its school funding law is highly skewed by race,” Spring said, “and they would demand that New York state change that and fund schools in a more equitable manner.”

The complaint alleges that state leaders have violated both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 and asks federal officials to order the state to increase funding to Schenectady.

Spring doesn't take issue with the state's funding formulas. Historically, the Legislature has not fully funded schools based on the state's foundation aid formula, so school districts only get a percentage of the aid they're required to receive under the law. Spring said he can prove that districts with mostly minority students, like Schenectady, are hurt more in the process.

The complaint also links racial demographics to poverty. Sixty-seven percent of Schenectady's students are non-white, and three quarters are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Schenectady is one of the poorest districts in the state.

According to the complaint, the median school district in New York receives 82 percent of its foundation aid, and Schenectady gets only 54 percent of its aid. According to the complaint, 5 percent of majority-white districts get under 60 percent of their aid, compared to 27 percent of minority districts. So districts with mostly minority students are five times more likely to be underfunded.

“I think it's time for Eric Holder to step in and say, New York has the most segregated school system in the country,” Spring said, referring to the U.S. attorney general. “To segregate black and Latino students, and to underfund black and Latino school districts so dramatically—it's unconscionable.”

Representatives from the governor's office, the comptrollers office and legislative leadership did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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