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NATIONAL COALTION v. HARRIS

April 18, 1980

NATIONAL COALTION FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, et al., Plaintiffs, against PATRICIA R. HARRIS, Secretary of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, et al., Defendants, and JAMES and BESSIE BOVIS, et al., Intervenor-Defendants, and PHILIP and IDA FENSTER, et al., Intervenor-Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: TENNEY

The constitutional prohibition against government aid to parochial schools *fn1" has provoked considerable litigation resulting in an array of not entirely harmonious judicial decisions. *fn2" This Establishment Clause challenge to Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 27, as amended, 20 U.S.C. §§ 2701 et seq. ("Title I"), was launched over twenty years ago and, at that time, culminated in the landmark decision of Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 88 S. Ct. 1942, 20 L. Ed. 2d 947 (1968). The same day that Flast established that a taxpayer had standing to assert this First Amendment claim, the Supreme Court upheld a New York law requiring local public school authorities to lend textbooks free of charge to parochial school students. Board of Education v. Allen, 392 U.S. 236, 88 S. Ct. 1923, 20 L. Ed. 2d 1060 (1968). Confronted with this unfavorable precedent and an apparently unsympathetic Court, the opponents of Title I decided to postpone pursuit of their claim. The legal landscape has now changed and the challenge has been renewed. The National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty ("PEARL") has brought this suit against the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, the United States Commissioner of Education, and the Chancellor of the New York City Board of Education to enjoin the allocation and use of Title I funds for the remedial education of parochial school students by public school teachers on the premises of the parochial schools during regular school hours.

Since Flast and Allen were decided, two developments have occurred that are decisive in the resolution of this lawsuit. First, a series of Supreme Court decisions have clarified in part the precise concerns underlying the First Amendment's prohibition against the establishment of religion. Second, New York City has been running Title I programs for about fourteen years and has accumulated an extensive record of operations that can be examined and evaluated. Upon viewing this record in light of the considerations embodied in the Establishment Clause, this Court has concluded that Title I, as interpreted and applied in New York City, does not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.

 Procedural Background

 After this lawsuit was filed, the Court granted motions to intervene as defendants that were made by certain parents of children who attend parochial schools in New York and who receive remedial educational assistance under Title I. A three-judge court was convened to hear and decide the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2282. *fn3"

 Plaintiffs then moved for summary judgment or, in the alternative, for a preliminary injunction. Relying on Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U.S. 349, 95 S. Ct. 1753, 44 L. Ed. 2d 217 (1975), and Public Funds for Public Schools v. Marburger, 358 F. Supp. 29 (D.N.J.) (three-judge court), aff'd mem., 417 U.S. 961, 94 S. Ct. 3163, 41 L. Ed. 2d 1134 (1974), discussed infra, the plaintiffs asserted that the Supreme Court twice "has faced the constitutional question raised in this case, and in both instances it has ruled the challenged statute unconstitutional on its face." Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at 2. The Court denied both motions. National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Califano, 446 F. Supp. 193, 196 (S.D.N.Y.1978). Not only did the plaintiffs fail to show the threat of irreparable injury that is a prerequisite to preliminary injunctive relief, but, as noted by the Court, an order halting the remedial education program in the middle of the year would work an unwarranted hardship on the defendants and would harm the public interest. Id. at 195. The Court also rejected PEARL's summary judgment argument for two reasons.

 
First, the plaintiffs' challenge is not to this statute on its face; rather, they challenge Title I only "insofar as (it) authorizes the expenditure of federal funds to finance educational services within religious schools during school hours." Notice of Motion P 3. The limited nature of this challenge to a particular application of the statute necessarily demands that this Court be fully informed on the exact manner in which these Title I funds are used, in order both that the Court may understand and evaluate the alleged constitutional improprieties of this use of Title I funds and that the Court may shape a suitable injunctive order should such improprieties be found.
 
Second, as the Supreme Court has noted,
 
The task of deciding when the Establishment Clause is implicated in the context of parochial school aid has proved to be a delicate one for the Court. Usually it requires a careful evaluation of the facts of the particular case. It would be wholly inappropriate for us to attempt to render an opinion on the First Amendment issue when no specific plan is before us. A federal court does not sit to render a decision on hypothetical facts . . . .
 
Wheeler v. Barrera, (417 U.S. 402, 426-27, 94 S. Ct. 2274, 2288, 41 L. Ed. 2d 159) (citations omitted). In evaluating a first amendment challenge, a court must examine, inter alia, whether "the statute and its administration (avoid) excessive entanglement with religion." Meek v. Pittenger, supra, 421 U.S. (349) at 358, 93 S. Ct. (1753) at 1760 (44 L. Ed. 2d 217) (emphasis added). Such an examination is not possible on the current record.

 Id. at 196.

 An evidentiary hearing was conducted in May 1979. Plaintiffs called only one witness, Dr. John Ellis, Executive Deputy Commissioner for Educational Programs in the United States Office of Education. Plaintiffs' counsel stated that he was seeking to determine how the federal government interprets and administers Title I and proceeded to ask Dr. Ellis a series of primarily hypothetical questions based on prior Supreme Court decisions. Tr. 40-65. Pursuant to an agreement reached at a pretrial conference, the defendants presented the bulk of their case in the form of a narrative summary which was received into evidence. Defendants' Exh. T. This summary synthesized numerous affidavits, Defendants' Exh. U, Tabs A-1 to A-58, and documentary evidence, Defendants' Exhs. A-S, which described the operation of New York City's Title I program in nonpublic schools. The defendants also called seven witnesses who were teachers or administrators in the program.

 At the start of the evidentiary hearing, plaintiffs' counsel stated that PEARL had no evidence showing that New York City's Title I program was unconstitutional. Tr. 8. Counsel explained that PEARL had sought to discontinue the suit against the City because "proof of such a (constitutional) violation and the financing of a trial record is beyond our means." Id. at 7-8. The City, however, had rejected PEARL's discontinuance offer. *fn4" The plaintiffs therefore asked the Court to enter judgment in favor of the City and allow the case to go forward against the two federal officials. The Court did not grant the request and plaintiffs conceded that "there is no violation in respect to any school within the City of New York and we ask no relief against the City of New York." Id. at 8.

 Towards the end of the hearing, plaintiffs' counsel stated that "(o)ur basic premise is the statute on its face as construed by the Commissioner of Education is unconstitutional irrespective what happens in any school anywhere in the United States." Id. at 159. He then agreed with the Court's characterization of PEARL's argument as being "(n)ot that the statute itself is unconstitutional but (that it) is being unconstitutionally interpreted and applied." Id. at 60. Plaintiffs' counsel reaffirmed this position at the post-trial oral argument before the three-judge panel, P-Tr. at 17, *fn5" and reiterated his view that the case was unaffected by the lack of proof that New York City's Title I program violated the Constitution. Id. at 11.

 The Court rejects plaintiffs' contention that "the issue in this case is not what is actually done; the issue in this case is what is authorized by the law which we are challenging." Id. at 11-12. This assertion is directly contradicted by the admonition of the Wheeler Court, quoted above, that a federal court must not issue decisions based on hypothetical situations. Wheeler v. Barrera, supra, 417 U.S. at 427, 94 S. Ct. at 2288. In Wheeler, the Supreme Court specifically declined to rule on the constitutionality of a Title I program that provided remedial services on the premises of parochial schools because it would be "wholly inappropriate" to render an opinion "when no specific plan is before us." Id. at 426, 94 S. Ct. at 2288. Obviously, it would be highly inappropriate for this Court to reject the exhaustive evidence that has been presented on New York City's Title I program and to resolve this suit on the basis of the plaintiffs' evidence about what could happen under the law. Accordingly, the factual summary and legal analysis that follows relies on the undisputed evidence submitted on the implementation of Title I in New York City schools. The Court's constitutional ruling is, of course, confined to the fact situation specifically presented here.

 Factual Background

 Title I

 Title I was enacted in 1965 to provide federal funding for compensatory educational programs that are administered by local public educational agencies and are directed to educationally deprived children in low-income areas. Recognizing the significant correlation between poverty and learning deficiencies, Congress "declare(d) it to be the policy of the United States to provide financial assistance . . . to local educational agencies serving areas with concentrations of children from low-income families to expand and improve their educational programs by various means . . . which contribute particularly to meeting the special educational needs of educationally deprived children." 20 U.S.C. § 2701; see S.Rep.No.146, 89th Congress, 1st Sess., reprinted in (1965) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, pp. 1446, 1450. The Act provides for annual congressional appropriations for programs proposed by local educational agencies ("LEA") and approved by state educational agencies. 20 U.S.C. § 2731. All programs are administered solely by the LEA in the particular area and are staffed entirely with the LEA's employees. 20 U.S.C. § 2734(m); 45 C.F.R. §§ 116.42, 116a.23(f). In order to be eligible for Title I funds, a program must satisfy certain statutory criteria that are designed to assure that the Act's purposes are advanced. For example, Title I funds may be provided only to children who meet the dual eligibility requirement of (1) educational deprivation, defined as below age-level performance and (2) residence in an area designated by the LEA, in accordance with Title I regulations, as having a high concentration of children from low-income families. Id. §§ 2722, 2732-2734. Federal financing is available only for programs that will supplement, rather than supplant, non-federally funded programs that would have been available in the absence of Title I funds. Id. §§ 2734(f), 2736(c).

 Participation in Title I programs is not limited to children enrolled in public schools. The Act provides:

 
To the extent consistent with the number of educationally deprived children in the school district of the local educational agency who are enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools, such agency shall make provision for including special educational services and arrangements (such as dual enrollment, educational radio and television, and mobile educational services and equipment) in which such children can participate . . . . Expenditures for educational services and arrangements pursuant to this section for educationally deprived children in private schools shall be equal (taking into account the number of children to be served and the special educational needs of such children) to expenditures for children enrolled in the public schools of the local educational agency.

 20 U.S.C. § 2740(a) (emphasis added). Title I regulations require that each LEA provide services designed to meet the needs of educationally deprived children who attend private schools. 45 C.F.R. § 116a.23. These children must be given "genuine opportunities to participate," and the types of services to be provided shall be determined "on a basis comparable to that used in providing for the participation of public school children." Id.

 As noted by the Supreme Court, Congress anticipated that "one of the options open to the local agency in designing a suitable program for private school children was the provision of on-the-premises instruction." Wheeler v. Barrera, supra, 417 U.S. at 422, 94 S. Ct. at 2286; see S.Rep.No.146, 89th Cong., 1st Sess., reprinted in (1965) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News, pp. 1446, 1457; 111 Cong.Rec. 5747-48 (1965) (remarks of Congressmen Goodell, Carey and Perkins). Federal and local officials administering the statute have adhered to the view that services directed to nonpublic school children may be provided on the premises of the nonpublic institution. Wheeler v. Barrera, supra, 417 U.S. at 421-23, 94 S. Ct. at 2285-86; 45 C.F.R. § 116a.23(f); Affidavit of Genevieve Dane, Program Operations Branch Chief in HEW's Division of Education for Disadvantaged, sworn to April 20, 1979 ("Dane Aff."), P 11; Affidavit of Lawrence F. Larkin, Director of the Bureau of Nonpublic School Reimbursable Services for the New York City Board of Education, sworn to April 17, 1979 ("Larkin Aff."), P 9.

 Title I regulations impose restrictions on the services provided on the premises of the nonpublic schools to assure that the programs remain secular both in content and setting. Public school personnel may provide instruction on nonpublic school premises only to the extent necessary to make such special services available to those educationally deprived children for whom the Title I program was designed. 45 C.F.R. § 116a.23(f). These services may be provided to eligible students only if they are not otherwise provided by the nonpublic school. Id. Title I funds may not be used to pay the salaries of private school teachers or employees, except for services performed outside their regular hours of duty under public supervision and control. Id. The LEA must maintain exclusive direction and control over all Title I services and funds, wherever provided; no public funds can be disbursed to the schools. Id. § 116.42. If any equipment or materials are used in a private school's Title I program, the LEA must maintain title to and physical control of the property and must remove it from the premises if necessary to prevent its being used for any purpose other than the Title I program. Id.

 If a state or locality fails to comply with Title I requirements pertaining to the approval of local projects, disbursements of funds, or program supervision, the federal government must terminate or suspend Title I funding. 20 U.S.C. § 2836(a); 45 C.F.R. § 116.20. The statute provides, however, that in the event an LEA "is prohibited by law from providing for the participation in special programs for educationally deprived children enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools as required (by the Act), the Commissioner (of Education) shall waive the requirement, and shall arrange for the provision of services to such children through arrangements which shall be subject to the requirements of (the Act)." 20 U.S.C. § 2740(b)(1). This provision reflects Congress's intent "that state constitutional spending proscriptions not be pre-empted as a condition of accepting federal funds." Wheeler v. Barrera, supra, 417 U.S. at 417, 94 S. Ct. at 2283. If the LEA is prohibited by state or local law from providing for the "equitable" participation of private school students in Title I programs, the Commissioner waives the statutory requirement that the state assure such participation and "bypasses" local authorities by arranging for the direct provision of services to eligible private school children. 20 U.S.C. § 2740(b)(2). In Missouri, for example, state law prohibits the provision of Title I services on the premises of nonpublic schools during regular school hours. The United States Office of Education conducted a study in 1976 to determine the manner in which Title I services were being provided to nonpublic school children in four Missouri cities. The study concluded that the services provided at times other than during the normal school day were not comparable in quality, scope, and opportunity for participation to services provided during regular school hours. Affidavit of Joseph J. Vopelak, Acting Chief of the Institutional Services Section, Program Support Branch, in HEW's Division of Education for the Disadvantaged, sworn to April 20, 1979 ("Vopelak Aff."), P 14. On the basis of this study, the Commissioner of Education directed that Title I services be provided directly to nonpublic school children in those four districts. Id. P 16. Initial determinations of dnoncomparability have been made with respect to more than fifty other Missouri districts. Id. *fn6"

 Title I is the largest single federally funded education program in the United States. During the 1979-1980 school year, services will be provided to approximately 4,800,000 public school children and 200,000 private school children across the nation. Dane Aff. # 3. About 4 percent of the projected budget, or $ 105,200,000, will be spent on services for private school children. Id.

 New York City's Title I Program

 The New York City Board of Education ("Board") is responsible for administering the largest program of Title I remedial educational services in the United States. During the 1978-1979 school year, a total of 404,686 public and nonpublic school students were eligible for Title I services. Larkin Aff. P 34. Of that total, 33,285, or 8.2 percent, were enrolled in nonpublic schools. Id. P 35. Because of budgetary and logistical limitations, however, only 13,265 of the eligible nonpublic school students were expected to receive Title I services during that year. Id.

 In New York City, Title I remedial services are provided directly on the premises of the nonpublic schools during regular school hours. The Board adopted this arrangement only after experimenting with alternative programs. During the first academic year that Title I funds were available, the Board attempted to provide services to private school students after regular school hours on the premises of both the private and public schools. The results of this experiment, however, were quite discouraging. Id. P 135. Attendance was poor, students were inattentive, teachers were tired, and parents were concerned about the safety of children leaving school late in the afternoon. Id. P 136. A suggested alternative to providing services at the nonpublic schools during the school day was to offer instruction to nonpublic school students at public schools during regular school hours. However, serious questions were raised about the constitutionality, under Article XI of the New York State Constitution, of allowing parochial school students to participate with public school students in programs conducted during regular school hours at the public school. Id. P 138(a); Defendants' Exh. L at 3 (Statement by Board on Title I Proposals, August 31, 1966). Upon considering these legal problems and the difficulties created by an after-hours program, the Board decided to establish Title I programs on the premises of nonpublic schools during regular school hours. Larkin Aff. P 138; Defendants' Exh. L at 3. In adopting this arrangement, the Board was cognizant of the need to maintain the secular integrity of the program. The Board thus stated that it

 
will provide the following services for educationally disadvantaged children in non-public schools, on their premises, during the school day: remedial reading, remedial arithmetic, speech therapy, and guidance counselling. The instruction will be given by peripatetic teachers, who will go from one school to another during particular periods; no teacher will be so assigned without his consent. The instruction will not duplicate any of the regular class-room work of the schools involved. Speech improvement instruction, for example, as distinguished from speech therapy (for stammering and other speech impediments), has been eliminated from the proposals as being too close to regular class-room work. Library services for ...

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