Civil rights group makes legal case for controversial Education Dept. regulation
A chorus of opponents has accused the Obama administration of overstepping its legal authority with a proposal to regulate the spending of billions of dollars meant to help educate children from poor families.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service bolstered that criticism, finding in May that the proposed regulation appeared to “go beyond what would be required by a plain reading of the statute.”
But a new analysis — conducted by attorneys at WilmerHale at the request of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and provided to The Washington Post — comes to a different conclusion, finding that the Education Department has “ample” legal authority to move forward with its proposal.
The dueling legal opinions are just one sign of what has become one of the most fiercely contested national issues in education. Though it receives far less attention than the Common Core State Standards, testing or charter schools, the Education Department’s proposal has the potential to dramatically reshape how school districts nationwide allocate money and teachers among campuses.
Federal law has long said that school districts cannot underfund schools in poor neighborhoods and then use federal Title I dollars to fill the hole. Instead, they must ensure that schools in poor neighborhoods get all the state and local dollars they would if Title I dollars were not available — an attempt to give children from poor families a fairer shot at a decent education.
Nevertheless, many Title I schools continue to receive fewer dollars than more-affluent schools in the same district. And the requirements for showing compliance with the law were almost universally regarded as onerous and often counterproductive to providing students with the services they needed.
Congress attempted to solve that in the new Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed last year, by maintaining the spirit of the provision but tweaking its language. Now, school districts must show that the methodology they use for allocating state and local money to schools is fair and does not shortchange schools in poor neighborhoods.
The controversy centers on a regulation that the Education Department has proposed to implement that law. It has undergone several iterations and has yet to be finalized. But at its heart is the notion that school districts must show they are spending a roughly equivalent number of state and local dollars per pupil in high-poverty schools as in more-affluent schools.