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N.Y. Task Force Cites 'Racism' in Funds Allocation

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A New York State task force has charged that "racism" is dividing the education system into two unequal tiers--one for the rich and one for the poor.

In a report to be presented to the Board of Regents later this month, the Task Force on the Education of Children and Youth At Risk asks the board to "come to the rescue of children in New York" by reallocating state aid to more directly benefit students who are socially and economically "at risk."

The report claims that state aid has traditionally favored the "first tier" of schools in the state, which hold "high expectations for their students" and are located "in affluent or stable communities."

Schools in the "second tier," which are more often found in large urban areas and the inner cities, according to the report, "communicate low expectations and aspirations for their students, who are not given a full opportunity to succeed."

The underlying cause of this two-tiered system is racism, the report concludes.

The racism, it says, is expressed "in a variety of ways: inadequate resources to those most in need; perpetuating segregated schools; and in some schools, the tracking of minority students into less rigorous academic programs without regard for individual abilities, interests, and potential."

'Difficult To Prove'

Although the report offers few specifics to bolster its racism charge, school officials predicted last week that the blunt language would fan flames in the long-running debate over the state-aid distribution for8mula--and, in particular, over New York City's share.

Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol, who appointed the task force last year, has said that he does not necessarily agree with the report's conclusions. But he concedes, a spokesman said, that "racism does affect schools in New York, as it does the rest of society."

The commissioner found the task force's claims "very difficult to prove," according to the spokesman, and felt that "they did a disservice to many people who are trying to change things in the state."

Although the report has not yet been officially presented to the state board, one member of the board, Mimi Levin Lieber, said she agreed with its description of "two unequal school systems in the state--one for the rich, and one for the poor."

She added, however, that she did not agree that the cause for the division is racial.

Funding Report Due Soon

Ms. Lieber is chairman of another state-appointed commission that is currently studying the state-aid distribution formula.

In recommendations to be made to the Board of Regents this month, her commission will urge that the state target more resources to help the at-risk student population, she said.

But Ms. Lieber denied that such proposals would necessarily result in increased aid to New York City schools. "We're going to look for at-risk youngsters, and we're going to find them in rural areas as well as the city," she said.

The debate over funding for New York City's schools has often been a stumbling block during budget negotiations in the legislature.

During the last session, Mayor Edward I. Koch claimed that the city's schools unfairly received only 32 percent of the state aid for education, while enrolling 36 percent of the state's students.

The task-force report does not specifically cite the need for more aid to New York City schools. Among its recommendations, the panel calls for:

The revision of state-aid formulas to favor poorer school districts;

The expansion of prekindergarten programs to include more children at or below 200 percent of the federally defined poverty level;

The development of individual learning plans for each at-risk child;

The dedication of half of the annual increase in state aid to programs for at-risk students;

Financial rewards for school districts that show improvement in their instructional programs.--lj

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