Federal Lawsuit Filed Against California to Access Special Ed Funding in Religious Schools

FILE - Students return to Richneck Elementary in Newport News, Va., Jan. 30, 2023. Authori
Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot via AP, File

California parents filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s exclusion of religious schools in special education funding.

The suit, brought by three sets of parents with special needs children and two religious schools, challenges California’s determination that state and federal special education funds can be used for secular private schools, but not for religious ones.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that protects the right of disabled children to receive a free public education, as well as aid in school staff training, special needs programs, and other assistance. If a public school cannot meet the needs of a child, IDEA helps place that child in a private school that can.

Despite the fact that other states use IDEA to place children in both secular and religious private schools, California explicitly bars such funding to go toward religious schools.

The parent plaintiffs in the case want to send their children to private Jewish schools. The two Los Angeles-based schools are Shalhevet High School and Yavneh Hebrew Academy, both of which are private Jewish schools.

Plaintiffs are represented by the Becket Fund or Religious Liberty, which argues that California is denying special needs children equal access to education.

“California politicians can end this unlawful discrimination the easy way or the hard way,” Becket vice president and senior counsel Eric Rassbach said in a press release. “Either they change the law that is hurting children with disabilities, or they can shamefully fight in court for the right to discriminate.”

Citing Carson v. Makin, a recent Supreme Court case deciding that a similar Maine law was in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Becket says there has been “long line of cases holding that religious people cannot be excluded from government benefits programs solely because they are religious.”

The case is Loffman v. California Department of Education, No. 23-1832, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Breccan F. Thies is a reporter for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @BreccanFThies.


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