Civil Rights Commission: American Public Schools Profoundly Unequal

By Claire Caulfield
Published: Friday, January 12, 2018 - 6:11pm
Updated: Monday, January 15, 2018 - 6:57am
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A report from the nation’s top civil rights authority outlines how states are failing to provide equal opportunities to poor and minority students.

Released Thursday, "Public Education Funding Inequity In An Era Of Increasing Concentration Of Poverty and Resegregation," makes a lengthy list of recommendations to improve equity in opportunities offered to, and dollars spent on, educating American students.  

“The reality is that across the nation we have profound inequity in schooling opportunity,” said Catherine Lhamon, chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. “And schools in the Southwest are like schools around the county in the need to ensure equal opportunity for all their students and that we live up to the fairness ideals that a part of the American promise.”

Lhamon said Arizona schools are of concern due to their low per-pupil funding.

Outside of the Commission’s 150-page report, she pointed to The National Center for Education Statistics finding that Arizona has one of the lowest per-pupil funding rates in the nation and Education Week’s D-Plus rating of school finance and equity in the state.

“So Arizona certainly has room to grow,” Lhamon said.

"In Arizona, there is a disparity that occurs," said Stefan Swiat, Arizona Department of Education spokesman, in a written statment. "Bcause many districts are supported by high property taxes, which can lead to funding inequality."

"Also, western state do not possess control over their state lands like eastern states, which results in less overall funds in the state budget that can be allocated towards education," Swiat said. He compared Arizona's state budget of $9 billion to Massachusetts budget of $40 billion, despite the two states having similar populations.

However, more dollars do not automatically equal more opportunities to those who need it most, Lhamon said. The commission calls on states to actively evaluate where money, time and resources are being concentrated.

“The ways that states can increase equity are to examine the ways that their school districts are funded to examine whether there's equity between and among school districts,” she said.

The independent and bipartisan committee, which was formed to investigate civil rights complaints, also called on Congress to:

  • “… adopt equitable public school finance systems”
  • “… ensure adequate funding for students with disabilities, without … classifying students into special education”
  • “… invest in facilities which can help to provide an equitable environment for students to achieve”
  • “… increase federal funding to supplement state funding”
  • “promote the collection, monitoring, and evaluation of school spending data to determine how funds are most effectively spent”
  • “develop mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of federal spending”

“The commission has many times over our 60-year history examined public education equity and opportunity because of the importance to the nation of public education,” Lhamon said. “It is beyond question that education is a civil right and the civil rights of our students and schools are integral to our nation’s health.” 

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