Monday, October 01, 2018

Federal Funding to Chicago Public Schools is Suspended

The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the Department of Education is suspending some funding to the Chicago Public Schools because of a record of "serious and pervasive violations under Title IX" and its "slow and incomplete responses to federal investigators who are looking into two student complaints filed in recent year."

This is notable departure from the Department's standard practice of using federal funding as leverage to get school districts and other educational institutions to correct their Title IX problems on a going-forward basis, without ever having to actually make good on the threat to terminate funding. 

Title IX generally contemplates an all-or-nothing approach to federal funding; recipients that violate the law are subject to termination, not just to some funding but all of it. For this reason, I've sometimes described this penalty as a hammer that is too big to use. Yet, that does not seem to be what is happening in the CPS case. If one of the country's largest school districts had lost all of its federal funding over Title IX violations, we'd have expected more (a) process -- since the Title IX regulations provide for a series of procedural steps, including a hearing and possibly appeal before that can happen -- and (b) fanfare, because the drastic step of terminating all federal funding over violations of Title IX has never occurred in the past.

Here, it seems that the agency has creatively isolated only federal funding from a particular grant program to qualified magnet schools (presumably on the grounds, detailed in the regulations of the Magnet Schools Assistant Program, that the school districts applying for the grant attest that they not engage in sex and other forms of discrimination) to open up some more options for enforcement besides all and nothing.  By focusing on only one grant program, the agency was (apparently) able to suspend millions of dollars by simply sending a letter -- sidestepping the hearing and other procedural steps necessary to terminate all funding. This has both an upside and a downside, so far as I can see.  The upside is that because of the consequences meted out to CPS, CPS and other school districts might do a better job in the future addressing Title IX issues proactively rather that waiting for the Department of Education's OCR to show up and investigate. On the other hand, this administration is not a fan of public schools, so I would be curious about what procedural safeguards CPS had to ensure that the decision to suspend this funding was fair. It is also unclear what opportunity CPS might have to restore the funding that was lost. (That the article used the words "withheld" and "suspended" rather than "terminated" suggesting the possibility that this is a temporary or conditional decision.)