Archdiocese Sues LAUSD, Claims Federal Funds Withheld From Catholic Schools

By Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
December 20, 2021 Updated: December 21, 2021

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles is suing the city’s school district, saying it prevented Catholic schools in low-income areas from receiving federal funds for years by frequently changing the qualifications and paperwork process for applying schools.

The disagreement between the archdiocese and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) began in 2018, when the archdiocese claimed the LAUSD kept abruptly changing the process for applying for what is known as “Title I” federal funds, which provide financial assistance to schools with high numbers of low-income students.

Title I requires that local school districts—such as the LAUSD—provide private schools with Title I funds “that are equitable to those provided to eligible public school children,” according to the state’s education department.

In court documents, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Dec. 16, attorneys for the archdiocese allege that LAUSD violated several codes from 2017 through 2020 by “continually [changing] the rules, parameters, procedures, and guidelines for reviewing the eligibility of [archdiocesan] students without notice to or consultation with [the archdiocese]” and failing to consult with the archdiocese before changing forms necessary for students to participate in Title I.

As a result, the petition claims, a number of eligible low-income students in archdiocese schools were “suppressed” and denied “their right to participate in Title I.”

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A man walks outside of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles on March 22, 2020. (Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

The archdiocese is seeking a court order directing LAUSD to “engage in timely and meaningful consultations with [the archdiocese] regarding the process by which the [archdiocese] schools’ Title I allocation was calculated.”

Filing is not the first action the archdiocese has taken in an attempt to rectify the situation.

According to the petition, it submitted multiple public records requests with the state to “understand LAUSD’s purported reasons for its actions”—which the district “simply ignored.”

In September 2019, the archdiocese filed a complaint with the California Department of Education regarding LAUSD’s alleged conduct after the district reduced the number of Catholic schools receiving Title I funds from 102 to 17.

Last summer, the state department of education released a 58-page investigative report in favor of the archdiocese’s claims.

The report criticized LAUSD’s behavior, saying its action was “egregious,” “totally unreasonable,” and “the antithesis of good faith,” and directed the LAUSD to establish “timely and meaningful consultation with the archdiocese to rectify any errors within 60 days.”

It’s unclear at this time whether the LAUSD has complied with the order and consulted with the archdiocese.

The state’s report also found that the LAUSD receives an average of around $300 million annually in Title I funds and distributes less than 3 percent to private schools.

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Students return to in-person learning at St. Anthony Catholic High School in Long Beach, Calif., on March 24, 2021. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

In 2019, that percentage was even less—0.5 percent—even though the district received about $350 million that year.

In that instance, the total amount the LAUSD allotted to private schools dropped from roughly $7.5 million to $1.7 million.

Superintendent of Schools of the Archdiocese, Paul Escala, was reported last summer as saying the state’s report “affirmed and validated what we have known for a very long time—that the most poor and vulnerable students we serve within the area of the Los Angeles Unified School District have been disenfranchised.”

Escala said the LAUSD’s actions were not accidental.

“There has been a very clear and—one can only deduce by the findings—methodical approach to find ways and means of reducing legally entitled resources to our children,” he said.

The archdiocese’s attorney, as well as a spokesperson for the LAUSD, didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.