U.S. Department of Education orders districts to fix funding disparities

In an official "Dear Colleague Letter" released this week, the U.S. Department of Education basically instructed school districts to have similar academic course offerings for its students, regardless of race, color, origin, etc. The Letter is issued by the Office of Civil Rights, which enforces Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance).
Chronic and widespread racial disparities in access to rigorous courses, academic programs, and extracurricular activities; stable workforces of effective teachers, leaders, and support staff; safe and appropriate school buildings and facilities; and modern technology and high-quality instructional materials further hinder the education of
students of color today. (Page 2).  
 As concrete examples, the letter cites:
But schools serving more students of color are less likely to offer advanced courses and gifted and talented programs than schools serving mostly white populations, and students of color are less likely than their white peers to be enrolled in those courses and programs within schools that have those offerings. For example, almost one in five black high school students attend a high school that does not offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, a higher proportion than any other racial group. Students with limited-English-proficiency (English language learners) are also underrepresented in AP courses according to data from the 2011-12 school year. In that year, English language learners represented five percent of high school students, but only two percent of the students enrolled in an AP course.11 Similarly, of the high schools serving the most black and Latino students in the 2011-12 school year, only 74 percent offered Algebra II and only 66 percent offered chemistry. Comparable high-level opportunities were provided much more often in schools serving the fewest black and Latino students, where 83 percent offered Algebra II courses and 78 percent offered chemistry. (Page 3.)
On the facilities of schools:
The physical spaces where our children are educated are also important resources that influence the learning and development of all students, yet many of our Nation’s schools have fallen into disrepair. Too often, school districts with higher enrollments of students of color invest thousands of dollars less per student in their facilities than those districts with predominantly white enrollments. (Page 4.)
On teacher pay within the same school district:
. . . [D]isparities may be indicative of broader discriminatory policies or practices that, even if facially neutral, disadvantage students of color. 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. (Page 5.)
The Letter also recognizes that snap-shot data may not tell the whole story.
The provision of equal opportunities may require more or less funding depending on the location of the school, the condition of existing facilities, and the particular needs of students such as English language learners and students with disabilities. For example, older facilities generally require more money for annual maintenance than do newer facilities. Similarly, greater annual per-pupil library expenditures for one school may reflect an effort to correct years of underfunding of a library collection. Funding disparities that benefit students of a particular race, color, or national origin may also permissibly occur when districts are attempting to remedy past discrimination. (Page 10.)

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