WHEELER V. BARRERA, 417 U. S. 402 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wheeler v. Barrera, 417 U.S. 402 (1974)

Wheeler v. Barrera

No. 762

Argued January 16, 1974

Decided June 10, 1974

417 U.S. 402


Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1966 (the Act) provides for federal funding of special programs for educationally deprived children in both public and private schools. Respondents, parents of children attending nonpublic schools in Kansas City, Mo., brought this class action, alleging that petitioner state school officials arbitrarily and illegally were approving Title I programs that deprived eligible nonpublic school children of services comparable to those offered eligible public school children, and seeking injunctive and other relief. Petitioners answered that the aid sought by respondents exceeded Title I's requirements and contravened the State's Constitution and state law and public policy. First Amendment issues were also raised. The District Court denied relief. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that: petitioners were violating the requirement of the Act and implementing regulations that educationally deprived nonpublic school children be afforded a program comparable to that provided in public schools; if "on the premises" special teaching services are furnished public school children, then comparable programs must be provided nonpublic school children; the state constitutional provision barring use of "public" school funds in private schools did not apply to Title I funds; the question whether Title I funds were "public" within the meaning of the State Constitution was governed by federal law; and, since no plan for "on the premises" instruction in nonpublic schools had yet been implemented, the court would refuse to pass on petitioners' claims that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment would be violated if Title I does require or permit such instruction.


1. At this stage of the proceedings, this Court cannot reach and decide whether Title I requires the assignment of publicly employed teachers to provide remedial instruction during regular school hours on the premises of private schools attended by Title I eligible students. Pp. 417 U. S. 415-426.

(a) While the Court of Appeals correctly ruled that the District Court erred in denying relief where it clearly appeared that chanrobles.com-red

Page 417 U. S. 403

petitioners had failed to comply with the Act's comparability requirement, the Court of Appeals' opinion is not to be read to the effect that petitioners must submit and approve plans that employ the use of Title I teachers on private school premises during regular school hours. P. 417 U. S. 415.

(b) That court erred in holding that federal law governed the question whether "on the premises" private school instruction is permissible under Missouri law, since Title I evinces a dear intention that state constitutional spending proscriptions not be preempted as a condition of accepting federal funds. The key issue whether federal aid is money "donated to any state fund for public school purposes" within the meaning of the Missouri Constitution is purely a question of state, and not federal, law, and by characterizing the problem as one involving "federal," and not "state," funds, and then concluding that federal law governs, the Court of Appeals in effect nullified the Act's policy of accommodating state law. Pp. 417 U. S. 415-419.

(c) It was unnecessary for the Court of Appeals to reach the issue whether "on the premises" nonpublic school instruction is permissible under state law, since, in view of the fact that Title I does not obligate the State to provide such instruction, but only to provide "comparable" (not identical) services, the illegality of such instruction under state law would not provide a defense to respondents' charge of noncompliance with Title I. Pp. 417 U. S. 419-420.

(d) On remand, petitioners and the local school agency have the option to provide for "on the premises" instruction for nonpublic school children, but if they do not choose this method or if it turns out that state law prevents its use, then the following options remain: (1) they may approve a plan that does not utilize nonpublic school "on the premises" instruction but that still complies with the Act's comparability requirement; (2) they may submit a plan that eliminates "on the premises" instruction in public schools and may resort, instead, to other means, such as neutral sites or summer programs; or (3) they may choose not to participate at all in the Title I program. Pp. 417 U. S. 421-426.

2. The Court of Appeals properly declined to pass on the First Amendment issue, since no order requiring "on the premises" nonpublic school instruction having been entered, the matter was not ripe for review. Pp. 417 U. S. 426-427.

3. While, under the Act, respondents are entitled to comparable services, and therefore to relief, they are not entitled to any particular form of service, and it is the role of state and local agencies, chanrobles.com-red

Page 417 U. S. 404

not of the federal courts, at least at this stage, to formulate a suitable plan. Pp. 417 U. S. 427-428.

475 F.2d 1338, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 417 U. S. 428. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 417 U. S. 428. MARSHALL, J., concurred in the result. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 417 U. S. 429. chanrobles.com-red

Page 417 U. S. 405


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