Annual Report to Congress Fiscal Year 1998
In fiscal year 1998, Congress appropriated $61.5 million to OCR. The appropriation was a much-needed increase for the agency, reflecting a 12-percentage-point rise above the prior year. For the OCR, the 1990s had been a period of austerity. For example, in fiscal year 1997, the OCR staff level was at its all-time low, following several years of severe under-staffing due to insufficient funding. In that year, the office only had 700 staff nationwide, including just 101 attorneys in the enforcement offices. Caseload level at that point was 1:67.
At the beginning of fiscal year 1998, the OCR had a staff level of 661 people on board, which was the fewest number of staff at any time since the 1980 creation of ED. In fiscal year 1998, the Congress recognized this shortfall by fully funding the agency for the first time in a decade. At the year's end, the ratio of attorneys in the enforcement offices to complaint caseload was 1:47.
APPROPRIATION AND WORKLOAD
Fiscal Year 1990 - Fiscal Year 1998
|FY||Presidential Request||Congressional Appropriation*||FTE Usage||Complaints||Compliance Reviews|
|*FY 1990 and FY 1995 Appropriation after sequestration; FY 1997 Appropriation after recision|
With the full fiscal year 1998 appropriation, the OCR is now better equipped to carry out its mission. As a result of the fiscal year 1998 budget increase, the agency hired 91 new employees, with a greater number of attorneys and investigators hired than any other job category. The majority of these new staff are located in the 12 enforcement offices throughout the country. Training and development for skill enhancement of this new staff - as well as compensatory training of experienced staff that had been delayed due to insufficient funds - took place immediately after hiring and will continue through the next several fiscal years. We are deeply committed to our investment in staff. In addition, we have moved from traditional enforcement toward the collaborative resolution processes of mediation and negotiation, and we must make sure staff skills are commensurate with their new duties.
Civil rights enforcement is a labor-intensive effort. The greatest part of the appropriation for the OCR is used to pay salary and benefits. In fact, 78 percent of the OCR's budget request goes for those staffing expenses. Therefore, anytime the OCR does not receive full funding, staffing levels might have to be proportionately reduced. When we must limit our staff number due to fiscal constraints, staff must first devote their energies to investigating and resolving the many thousands of individual complaints received each year.
But when the OCR is given full funding, it can expand its staff functions beyond the work of individual complaints by adding the broader activities of compliance reviews and information assistance. By choosing to give assistance to larger school districts or even to entire states, and by conducting reviews on issues that affect the greatest number of students, we can maximize educational access for the greatest number of students.
In the last fiscal year, our work directly affected nearly six million students. We widened the pipeline to provide greater access to high-quality education, increased the number of students and potential students affected by our work, raised civil rights compliance levels nationwide, maintained our case-processing time, and successfully worked with educators, parents and students, and community groups throughout the country.
As our newly hired staff becomes fully trained and more experienced, we look forward to increasing our activities and our efficiencies. However, without full funding for fiscal year 1999 and the years beyond, the OCR will be returned to a funding level equivalent to the mid-1990s. In that period, the OCR was forced to severely cut back on information assistance as well as enforcement activities. Although we look forward to making a significant difference to a great number of students in fiscal year 1999, we do not want to disappoint student and parents, as well as their schools and colleges, by having to curtail our coactive work in that or subsequent years.-###-