NEW YORK – Four years after an initial complaint was filed, the federal government has sided with a claim from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles that the city has under-counted the number of Catholic school students eligible for federal assistance, affecting millions of dollars in services for high-need students.

As a result, the Los Angeles Unified School District now has to work with the archdiocese to revise data from the affected years, then recalculate the proportional share of funding archdiocesan schools were owed and provide lost services to eligible students.

Paul Escala, senior director and superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, said in a statement on the federal ruling that the archdiocese is “pleased with the decision.”

“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,” Escala said.

“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,” he said.

In a statement to Crux, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School District said it is “evaluating the [U.S. Department of Education’s] decision’s implications for the parties’ respective positions and will continue to engage with the archdiocese.”

The archdiocese filed the complaint to the California Department of Education back in 2019, after the Los Angeles Unified School District blocked all but 17 of more than 100 previously eligible Catholic schools from receiving Title 1 funds to assist underperforming students. Title 1 is a federal education program that supports low-income students throughout the nation.

The complaint was specific to the 2019-2019 and 2019-2020 school years.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Department of Catholic Schools is the largest system of non-public schools in the nation, with 250 elementary and high schools in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties serving more than 68,000 students.

According to data previously compiled by Angelus News, the archdiocesan news publication, in the three years prior to 2019, the Los Angeles Unified School District received an annual average of $291 million in Title I funds, and distributed between 2 percent and 2.6 percent among non-public schools. However, in 2019, when the city cut the Catholic school recipients from 102 to 17, the district received more than $349 million for Title I, but distributed less than 0.5 percent among non-public schools.

The difference in the percentage of funds non-public schools received in 2019 compared to years prior amounted to millions of dollars. In response to the archdiocese’s lawsuit, the California Department of Education ruled that the Los Angeles Unified School District had violated federal law, which forced cuts in academic assistance to underserved families.

The Los Angeles Unified School District appealed the decision in 2021, leading to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education ruling Nov. 28, affirming the previous decision made by the California Department of Education.

“We affirm on modified grounds CDE’s decision that LAUSD failed to accurately count the number of children from low-income families enrolled in ADLA schools that reside in Title 1 public school attendance areas for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years,” Adam Schott, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote in a 31-page decision.

Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg