Active: Federal lawsuit challenges racial discrimination in school grant program

In 1985, New York lawmakers passed legislation aimed at fostering interest in science, technology, and healthcare among low-income and underrepresented minority students.

The outcome was the establishment of the New York State Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), a statute channeling public funds to 56 colleges, universities, and medical schools statewide. These institutions host and operate STEP initiatives for 7th-to-12th-grade students that include instruction, exam preparation, hands-on and research training, college admissions guidance, and career-focused activities such as field trips and college visits.

Under the STEP program, students are eligible if they either are economically disadvantaged or belong to a minority group historically underrepresented in the targeted fields. STEP regulations explicitly define underrepresented minorities as only black, Hispanic, Native American, or Alaskan native.

A child of billionaires, for example, who happens to identify as black, is eligible for the STEP program. A Chinese American student whose parents barely top the poverty line, however, is categorically ineligible.

If the government wants to fund educational opportunities for children in need, it can do so. What it can’t do is use economic need as a way to treat applicants differently based on their race. STEP’s expressly race-conscious application process blatantly violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

Now, parents are fighting back. The Chinese American Citizens of Greater New York (CACAGNY), the Inclusive Education Advocacy Group and Higher with Our Parent Engagement (HOPE), all New York City-based parent groups, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the racially discriminatory provisions of the STEP statute.

The parent groups are represented at no charge by Pacific Legal Foundation and the Legal Insurrection Foundation.

What’s At Stake?

  • The government cannot deny educational opportunities to children based on their race. Government programs that assign benefits or burdens based on a student’s race violate the constitutional promise of equality before the law.

Case Timeline

January 17, 2024
Northern District of New York