The public schools in East Ramapo, New York were once the pride of Rockland County. People moved to the district in order to send their children to the well-regarded public schools.

That was as recent as 2007, before the East Ramapo School Board was taken over.

Board members supported by the white community, which vote as a bloc, then began the process of defunding the nearly all Black and Latinx public schools. The district dramatically increased taxpayer dollars to the nearly all (98 percent) white private schools.

Between 2009 and 2014, the board eliminated more than 445 professional positions, including 200 teachers. Things got so bad that the state stepped in and appointed a monitor who found in a 2014 report that the district’s finances “teeter on the edge of disaster,” and that the cuts “ripped out the heart of the academic program” in the public schools.

Though a few of those cuts have since been restored, the district is still down 296 educators, 14 social workers, and 14 special education teachers, as well as all elementary school assistant principals.

These policies have hurt every single public school student in the District – that’s thousands of children, virtually every one of them Black or Latinx.

Today, the New York Civil Liberties Union is going to trial to challenge the system that has effectively disenfranchised the Black and Latinx residents of East Ramapo and allowed the white community – which doesn’t even send their kids to public schools –  to hijack the East Ramapo School Board.

The public school funding cuts have contributed to a steep decline in education quality for East Ramapo’s public school students. In 2008, East Ramapo’s public school graduation rate was 72 percent. Ten years later – and 10 years after the Board’s public school funding cuts took effect – the graduation rate plummeted to 60 percent – 28 percent lower than the statewide graduation rate of 83 percent.

 

These policies have hurt every single public school student in the District – that’s thousands of children, virtually every one of them Black or Latinx.

Meanwhile, students’ proficiency in critical subjects like Math and English has dropped and is significantly lower than the statewide average.

This deeply flawed election system, under which all board members are elected on an at-large basis by all the voters of the District rather than representing each community within the District,  allows the majority – which is white and tends to vote as a political bloc – to prevent candidates they oppose from winning office.

As a result, Black and Latinx people in the District, whose children attend the public schools and who tend to support investment in public education, effectively have their votes diluted, without an equal opportunity to elect the candidates of their choice.

There is no foreseeable way for candidates running on a public school platform to win an election. No minority-preferred candidate has won a contested election since at least 2007, and the few people of color elected to the school board since then have been put up by and endorsed as part of the white majority slate.

The voting system at the center of this inequity violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or minority status.

Our lawsuit demands that the at-large method be replaced by a ward system with nine single-member districts, which permits voters living in each ward to elect their own Board member.

Black and Latinx residents in East Ramapo deserve the chance to vote for and elect the people they want to represent them. And the children of East Ramapo deserve a decent education.  It’s time to end the at-large voting system that has disenfranchised their parents and jeopardized their children’s futures.

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