National Center for Youth Law

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Budget Cuts and Broken Promises
Hidden news discovered in the Department of Education’s 2019 proposal for Civil Rights Data Collection

A new analysis by the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) uncovers some alarming information in the Department of Education’s September 2019 proposal regarding Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). The Department has hidden some key changes among its discussion of adding and removing various CRDC data points, including: announcing a decision to slash the CRDC’s budget by 26%; breaking its promise to look out for children with disabilities placed in private schools by their school districts; and failing to provide any transparency around promised additional technical assistance for school districts.

The Department is Starving the CRDC of Resources

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) oversees the CRDC, a critical tool for measuring public school equity. Its value comes from reporting accurate information in a timely manner.

This requires sufficient resources to maintain the survey tool, provide technical support for all school districts in the nation, collect the data, and produce and analyze the resulting database of survey responses quickly. In short, the Department cannot do the CRDC on the cheap.

Without acknowledgement or discussion, the Department is proposing a major cut in the CRDC’s budget. The 2019 proposal reveals that the Department will cut the 2019-20 CRDC budget by 26 percent compared to the 2017-18 CRDC. This comes after a 21 percent reduction between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 CRDC budget. In all, the CRDC budget has been cut 41 percent since the Trump administration took the reins, signaling just how little the administration prioritizes civil rights in the education of our country’s children

This budget reduction is especially baffling because during the same time period, Congress has given the Department’s OCR over $25 million more than it requested. There is simply no good reason for the Department to spend less on the CRDC, particularly when the Department has made promises to expand the collection and to work proactively to improve data quality.

The Department is Breaking its Promises

The Department did not keep its two-year-old promise to ensure the CRDC would track students with disabilities who are sent to private schools by their public schools. There are tens of thousands of such students placed by their school districts into non-public schools, where they can be subjected to exclusionary discipline, restraint and seclusion, and other adverse actions. Those students’ experiences are not currently tracked by the CRDC.

When this issue was raised two years ago, the Department agreed with commenters that “the collection of data regarding the treatment of students with disabilities in these settings is important for gauging possible discrimination and educational inequities.” It committed that it would invest the time to “consider options to gather input from key stakeholders to help determine the full range of data that can be collected, and how to best collect quality data from these districts” about the treatment of such students.

Despite its promises, there are no indications of any efforts by the Department to gather input from stakeholders. And, after two years of silence, the Department offers no changes to address this issue. The Department cannot protect students if it does not count them. The Department must keep its promise.

The Department is Making More Promises with No Follow Through

The Department has made bold promises about a new “Initiative to Address the Inappropriate Use of Restraint and Seclusion,” that would “conduct data quality reviews,” “provide technical assistance to schools on data quality,” and “work directly with school districts to review and improve restraint and seclusion data submitted as a part of the Civil Rights Data Collection.”

These commitments require additional resources and personnel. NCYL has learned, however, that the Department has assigned no additional staff to the matter, and has not involved the regional offices who work with school districts on a regular basis on other matters. And, as noted above, the Department has proposed cutting spending on CRDC. Unfortunately, this initiative seems to be merely lip service rather than a real effort to address the real data quality problems identified by the Government Accountability Office and others.

Read the National Center for Youth Law’s full comments on the proposed mandatory Civil Rights Data Collection submitted to Kenneth L. Marcus, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights