Every Wednesday, black and Latino students gather in front of the Department of Education offices in protest, holding signs that include messages such as, “We Want Soccer.”
The students are objecting to inequality in the city’s funding of high school sports — and Mayor Bill de Blasio needs to listen.
A complaint filed in November with the U.S. Department of Education by David Garcia-Rosen, dean of International Community High School in the Bronx and founder of the Small Schools Athletic League, claims the city’s distribution of funding for school sports violates students’ civil rights.
The Public Schools Athletic League provides most of the funding for competitive school sports. NYCLetEmPlay, an advocacy group campaigning heavily on the issue, says its analysis found that all schools without PSAL-funded teams have student bodies that are less than 10 percent white. And in all of the schools citywide with fewer than 15 athletic teams, a significant majority of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, a reliable measure of poverty.
As dramatic as the racial and economic disparities are, the sheer number of schools lacking teams is also very high: 67 schools receive no money from PSAL, and more than 21,000 students attend schools with no sports teams at all, according to NYCLetEmPlay.
In February, the city settled a civil rights complaint filed by the National Women’s Law Center, which claimed NYC shortchanged girls’ sports. The city agreed to budget an extra $1 million a year to add 96 new girls’ teams by 2019.
De Blasio campaigned on a platform of fairness and equality. As mayor and the father of two children of color, he has the responsibility to help fix PSAL’s shortcomings. The mayor should demand more funding from the state: All kids deserve school athletic programs and shouldn’t have to compete for budgetary crumbs.
But even without state help, he should work to shore up PSAL funding so more students are better served, and force the group to distribute it equitably, as well as ensure equal access to sports facilities and fields. If PSAL leaders won’t do that, the mayor should fire them and appoint people who will.