Parents say New Orleans school funding discriminates
Danielle Dreilinger of The Times-Picayune reports that four New Orleans families sought to intervene in a $390 million lawsuit Monday (April 4) saying the way the city has funded its public schools discriminates against African American, Hispanic and disabled children.
New Orleans receives a block grant of public school funding every year from the Louisiana Legislature based on the number of students it enrolls (NOLA.com), after which the city’s two systems – Orleans Parish and the state Recovery School District – divide and distribute that money to school differently. A new school funding plan put into place by Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. is an attempted compromise to ensure “that dollars follow students according to their needs in an equitable way” (NOLA.com). It reduces funding for Orleans Parish’s regular and gifted students and increases funding for the disabled, those who are speak English as a second language, and those who are far behind their grade level.
Lusher Charter and Lake Forest Charter, selective-admissions schools with low special education enrollment, will lose money from this new plan. They are suing the Orleans Parish School Board in U.S. District Court over the changes to the funding system, which go into effect July 1, contending that it is an illegal alteration of their charter contracts.
Paul Pastorek, a former Louisiana education superintendent representing the four intervening families in the Lusher / Lake Forest lawsuit, has said, “The true issue is if we don’t adopt a new formula… we have a civil rights issue” (NOLA.com).
Adam Hawf, a former assistant state superintendent who helped design the state’s Recovery School District’s funding plan, explained the families’ reasoning in an affidavit:
- Schools by law must give a special-education student the support services laid out in the student’s individualized education program.
- Schools that enroll a lot of needy students “often spent significantly more money to serve their disabled students than they were receiving under the previous funding formula.”
- New Orleans schools with large numbers of special education students do not enroll many white, economically comfortable children
- “The net effect is that these schools had to take money away from these impoverished African American and Hispanic students to meet the needs of their disabled peers.”
All four of the intervening families have disabled children who require extra support at school. Chris and Jennifer Lyman, two of the intervening individuals, have a son who requires a full-time aide to help him participate in school activities, move around in his wheelchair and his walker, eat, and use the restroom. When the family moved to New Orleans, they were told not to even consider one of the Orleans Parish Schools (NOLA.com).
Judge Jane Triche Milazzo must now decide whether the four families have the standing to intervene.
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