Education Department, Congress Making 'Retreat' on Civil Rights

By Devarics, Charles | Black Issues in Higher Education, November 23, 2000 | Go to article overview

Education Department, Congress Making 'Retreat' on Civil Rights


Devarics, Charles, Black Issues in Higher Education


Education Department, Congress Making `Retreat' On Civil Rights

The nation's elected leaders, Republican and Democrat alike, are continuing a "retreat from their obligation" to provide adequate funding for civil rights enforcement, the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights says in a new report that also singles out lack of progress at the U.S. Department of Education.

The study, which examines enforcement efforts government-wide, cites particular difficulties at the Education Department, which has had to deal with lower staffing levels -- but more civil rights complaints -- during the past six years. Full-time equivalent staff at its Office for Civil Rights has declined at least 10 percent since 1994. However, the number of complaints has increased significantly, part of a doubling in the number of complaints filed in the past decade.

"While annual complaints received by OCR have more than doubled over the past decade, staffing levels have fallen," says Dr. Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She notes that a 1995 report from the commission highlighted similar problems in federal agencies.

"However, not much has changed," she says. "Limited funding results in fewer compliance reviews, abbreviated investigations, less policy development and less defense of civil rights laws in court."

The Education Department trends have occurred as funding for the Office of Civil Rights has increased slightly. Since 1994, real spending on the office has increased by about 12 percent, yet "these increases have not been sufficient to offset the increasing workload coupled with decreasing [staff] levels."

The report cites problems at other federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Housing and Urban Development. "The president and the Congress have continued to retreat from their obligation to ensure that adequate resources are provided for civil rights enforcement," says the draft report, Funding Federal Civil Rights Enforcement: 2000 and Beyond.

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