Several recent news stories have underscored the vulnerability of children with special needs. Now, the AJC is reporting that the U.S. Justice Department plans to investigate allegations that Georgia schools are discriminating against students with disabilities, the Southern Poverty Law Center announced Thursday.
The complaint takes aim at the state’s funding formula, which gives schools more money when students with disabilities are not mainstreamed into regular classes.
At least six state commissions have examined school funding, including one now under way, but there has yet to be any real reform to how Georgia funds its schools.
The investigation by the department’s Office of Civil Rights follows a complaint filed by the center in November, claiming the Georgia Department of Education uses a funding formula that encourages districts to segregate students with disabilities in order to collect more money.
Matt Cardoza, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said Thursday officials at the agency have not received any word from the Justice Department and cannot comment.
The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center said it based its complaint on the state’s education funding formula, which was enacted by the General Assembly in 1985 as part of the Quality Basic Education Act.
Under the act, Georgia school districts receive more money when students with disabilities are taught in segregated, rather than traditional classrooms, the center contends. “Students with disabilities often face discrimination by teachers and their peers due to assumptions about what it means to have a disability,” said Jadine Johnson, a staff attorney with the law center.
Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, said he’ll wait to see the results of the Justice Department investigation. “But at first glance, it appears that our antiquated funding formula, neglected by a bi-partisan succession of governors and legislatures, may be at the root of this particular matter,” Callahan said.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog