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A Federal Raid on Local Schools
Wall Street Journal | 9/14/15
Behind the Headline
Education Next| Winter 2016
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Shep Melnick writes
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a small federal agency with large ambitions. In the past two years it has issued controversial rules on sexual harassment, school discipline and instruction of English learners. But a little noted 37-page “Dear Colleague” letter on the allocation of education funding that the agency issued on Oct. 1, 2014, might be its most audacious effort.
Under the new OCR rules, once federal officials determine that the distribution of any resource disadvantages a protected minority, the district must demonstrate that its policy is “necessary to meet an important educational goal” and that no “comparably effective alternative” is available. Who determines what constitutes an “important educational goal” and an “effective alternative”? The Office for Civil Rights.
Public-school officials should call the OCR’s bluff. They could respond to the Dear Colleague letter with letters of their own saying, “We applaud your goals, but prefer to spend money on teachers rather than on a blizzard of paperwork. If you attempt to terminate federal funds, we will see you in court. There you will lose—and put all your other Dear Colleague letters in legal jeopardy.” That would be educational.
Melnick’s op-ed is based on a new article in Education Next, “Civil Wrongs: Federal Equity Initiative Promotes Paperwork, Not Equality.”
– Education Next