The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has sided with a prior ruling that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) illegally withheld federal funds from low-income LA Catholic school students.

The federal government’s Nov. 16 ruling affirmed the California Department of Education’s decision in 2021 that LAUSD had failed to “accurately count the number of children from low-income families” attending schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and meaningfully consult with the archdiocese on those discrepancies.

The new ruling would restore millions of dollars in federal money that goes to low-income students attending LA-area Catholic schools that qualify for Title I funding.

In a decision shared with media Nov. 30, the USDE ordered LAUSD to take corrective actions, including working with the archdiocese to analyze and recalculate Title I-eligible schools and students, identify services to be provided, and to implement the amenities within 90 days, or a later agreed-upon date.

Once those recalculations have been made, restitution for past years can be determined.

“For years, many low-income students attending Catholic schools in the boundaries of the LAUSD have been deprived of vital educational services, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are legally eligible for,” said Paul Escala, senior director and superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “We trust this decision will result in a restoration of services for thousands of students in our schools which are needed now more than ever.”

The archdiocese filed a complaint in September 2019 after it said LAUSD had reduced the number of Catholic schools eligible for Title I funding to 17 after more than 100 schools had qualified in previous years. The archdiocese appealed to CDE and the department sided with ADLA in June 2021. The archdiocese filed a lawsuit in December 2021, alleging LAUSD had not taken corrective action.

The district appealed to the U.S. Department of Education and the lawsuit had been on hold until USDE issued its ruling. With November’s ruling, the lawsuit would end.

According to the California Department of Education report, in the three years prior to 2019, LAUSD received an annual average of around $291 million in Title I funds and distributed between 2% and 2.6% among private schools. But in the 2019-20 school year, when it cut the Catholic recipients from 102 to 17, the district had received more than $349 million for Title I — an increase over earlier years — but distributed less than 0.5% among private schools.

The total amount shared with private schools dropped from roughly $7.5 million to $1.7 million, according to the report. Catholic schools reported receiving about $190,000 or 11% of the total for private schools.

The archdiocese said it had traditionally utilized Title I funds to provide special teachers, counseling and extra assistance to struggling, low-income students.

The loss of those teachers and counselors “has prevented those students from having the supplemental learning that they need in order to maintain grade-level performance, and also to deal with the remedies necessary to close the gap on any learning losses they experienced due to the pandemic,” Escala said in 2021.

The archdiocese’s Department of Catholic Schools is the largest system of non-public schools in the nation, with 250 elementary and high schools and more than 68,000 students.

LAUSD now has 60 days to provide documentation to the state of what corrective actions have been taken, and the California Department of Education must inform the USDE on what those steps are within 75 days.