Sen. Casey proposes more funding to protect civil rights in schools - TAI News
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Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey last week proposed a new bill that would divert more funding to a federal office that protects civil rights in schools.

The Showing Up for Students Act would provide $280 million to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The bill comes amid noted increases in antisemitic, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incidents in schools across the United States, according to a March 6 announcement from Casey’s office.

According to Casey’s office, Department of Education data shows the Office for Civil Rights received 219 complaints of discrimination based on ancestry between Oct. 1, 2023, and Feb. 15, 2024, an increase of 1,360% over the same period a year before. The request for increased funding is in response to that increase, the announcement says.

“Every student—regardless of their race, gender, disability, or religion—deserves to go to school without facing discrimination,” Casey said in the announcement. “As incidents of antisemitism, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab harassment increase in schools rise across the Nation, Congress has an obligation to act. We must provide the Office for Civil Rights the resources it needs to keep our students safe from discrimination and hate.”

The Office for Civil Rights is tasked with enforcing federal civil rights laws in educational institutions or programs that receive federal funding, from elementary schools to after-school programs, colleges and universities. It investigates discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, age and disability in admissions, financial aid, classroom assignment, housing, employment, athletics and more.

Anyone who believes a federally funded educational institution or program has violated federal civil rights laws can file a complaint of discrimination with the OCR. 

When OCR makes a finding that a school is not complying with civil rights laws, it can negotiate and enforce a resolution agreement to bring the school into compliance, or refer the school to the Department of Justice for judicial proceedings if its administrators fail to cooperate. But the office has been chronically underfunded, the statement from Casey’s office says: “During the last decade, the volume of complaints OCR received has increased significantly, while staffing levels have decreased.”

Between 2012 and 2022, the office saw a 140% increase in the volume of complaints while its full-time staffing levels increased by only 6%. The OCR received more than 19,000 complaints in 2023, a record for the office, with only 562 staff members to handle them.

Funding under the Showing Up for Students Act would allow the OCR to hire more than 500 additional full-time staffers, the Department of Education estimated, allowing the office to resolve cases at a faster pace. The proposed funding increase would also allow the OCR to work proactively with schools to prevent discrimination and harassment against students, Casey’s office said: “OCR’s work is critical for students to have equal opportunities. We must meet this moment in history and ensure that students’ civil rights are protected and schools foster environments in which all students can learn.”

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