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Friday, April 6, 2012 - 9:12am

Feds Probe Discrimination Claims

The Southern Poverty Law Center says the U.S. Department of Justice will investigate a complaint that Georgia’s school funding formula discriminates against students with disabilities. The complaint, filed by the center in November, alleges that schools receive more money from the state when they keep disabled students in separate classrooms.

Officials with the nonprofit civil rights organization say the DOJ informed them this week that it would open an investigation into the matter.

Jerri Katzerman, a Deputy Legal Director at the law center, says the statewide school funding formula encourages schools to educate students with disabilities separately rather than integrate them into traditional classrooms. That's because it provides for full reimbursement of services such as employing an occupational therapist but only if students with disabilities receive those services in a separate classroom. And she says that violates federal educational statues.

Katzerman says the center found a 2005 report commissioned during Governor Sonny Perdue’s administration that identified problems with the funding formula and made what she calls "common-sense" recommendations, but nothing came of it.

A spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education declined to comment on the investigation because he said the DOJ hasn’t sent the complaint yet. Spokesman Matt Cardoza said state lawmakers made changes to the funding formula during the legislative session that ended last week, but they did not pass a comprehensive overhaul.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said officials there have received the complaint and are reviewing it.

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