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BENNETT v. KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT EDUCATION

decided: March 19, 1985.

BENNETT, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
v.
KENTUCKY DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT.

O'connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, Marshall, Rehnquist, and Stevens, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, II, IV, and V of which White and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Powell, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Author: O'connor

[ 470 U.S. Page 658]

 JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case, like Bennett v. New Jersey, ante, p. 632, concerns an effort by the Federal Government to recover Title I funds that were allegedly misused by a State. There is no contention here that changes in statutory provisions should apply to previous grants. Instead, the dispute is whether the Secretary correctly demanded repayment based on a determination that Kentucky violated requirements that Title I funds be used to supplement, and not to supplant, state and local expenditures for education. Although the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the Secretary's determination was based on a reasonable interpretation

[ 470 U.S. Page 659]

     of Title I and its implementing regulations, the court nonetheless excused the State from repayment on the grounds that there was no evidence of bad faith and the State's programs complied with a reasonable interpretation of the law. Kentucky v. Secretary of Education, 717 F.2d 943, 948 (1983). We granted certiorari, 469 U.S. 814 (1984), and because we disagree with the standard adopted by the Court of Appeals, we reverse.

I

As explained more fully in Bennett v. New Jersey, ante, at 634-636, Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Pub. L. 89-10, 79 Stat. 27, as amended, 20 U. S. C. § 2701 et seq., provided federal grants to support compensatory education programs for disadvantaged children. In order to assure that federal funds would be used to support additional services that would not otherwise be available, the Title I program from the outset prohibited the use of federal grants merely to replace state and local expenditures. This prohibition initially was contained in regulations, see 45 CFR § 116.17(f) (1966); 45 CFR § 116.17(h) (1968), and explained in a program guide distributed to state education agencies. Office of Education, Title I Program Guide No. 44, paras. 4.1, 7.1 (1968). Despite the regulations, the Office of Education*fn1 received public complaints that Title I funds were being used to replace state and local funds that otherwise would have been spent for participating children. See S. Rep. No. 91-634, pp. 9-10 (1970). Congress responded by amending Title I in 1970 to add a provision that specifically prohibited supplanting. Id., at 9-10, 14-15.

[ 470 U.S. Page 660]

     That provision, in effect when the grants involved in this case were made, required that Title I funds be used

"(i) as to supplement and, to the extent practical, increase the level of funds that would, in the absence of such Federal funds, be made available from non-Federal sources for the education of pupils participating in programs and projects assisted under this subchapter, and (ii) in no case, as to supplant such funds from non-Federal sources." 20 U. S. C. § 241e(a)(3)(B) (1970 ed.).

Title I regulations elaborated upon the statutory prohibition on the use of federal funds to supplant state and local funds:

"Each application for a grant . . . shall contain an assurance that the use of the grant funds will not result in a decrease in the use for educationally deprived children residing in that project area of State or local funds, which, in the absence of funds under Title I of the Act, would be made available for that project area and that neither the project area nor the educationally deprived children residing therein will otherwise be penalized in the application of State and local funds because of such a use of funds under Title I of the Act. . . . Federal funds made available . . . (1) will be used to supplement, and to the extent practical increase, the level of State and local funds that would, in the absence of such Federal funds, be made available for the education of pupils participating in that project; (2) will not be used to supplant State and local funds available for the education of such pupils." 45 CFR § 116.17(h) (1974).

In 1976, federal auditors found that Kentucky had approved Title I programs for fiscal year 1974 that violated the prohibitions on supplanting. App. 11-21. The disputed programs involved "readiness classes" offered by 50 local education agencies for educationally disadvantaged children

[ 470 U.S. Page 661]

     in place of regular first- and second-grade classes. App. to Pet. for Cert. 22a. Participating students received their entire academic instruction in the readiness classes, and a substantial number of the students were expected to be promoted to the next higher grade level the following year. App. 16-17. Title I funds were used to pay all the instructional salaries and a portion of the administrative support costs for the readiness classes. App. to Pet. for Cert. 22a. Students in these classes did receive locally funded "enrichment services," i. e., art, physical education, music, and library, that were available to students enrolled in regular classes. Ibid. It is not disputed, however, that Title I funds defrayed substantially all the costs of educating students in the readiness classes. App. 15, 17. The auditors concluded that supplanting of state and local expenditures had occurred for children in readiness classes who were promoted to the next higher regular grade. Id., at 17, 19; App. to Pet. for Cert. 30a. Based on this finding, the auditors estimated that $704,237 in Title I funds had been misused, and the Department issued a final determination letter demanding repayment. App. 22-23.

Kentucky sought further administrative review. The Education Appeal Board (Board), after extensive proceedings, issued an initial decision in 1981 sustaining the auditors' findings. App. to Pet. for Cert. 17a-32a. The Board rejected the State's argument that the supplanting provisions were satisfied because state and local funding was not reduced for the school districts, schools, or grade levels involved. Id., at 24a. The statutory and regulatory provisions, the Board concluded, clearly required that state and local expenditures be maintained for pupils participating in programs supported by Title I. Id., at 24a-25a. On remand from the Secretary, id., at 33a-35a, the Board reaffirmed its initial decision. Id., at 36a-37a. The Secretary subsequently affirmed the Board's finding that supplanting had occurred, but reduced the demanded repayment to

[ 470 U.S. Page 662]

     $338,034 to reflect the benefits presumed to result from smaller pupil-teacher ratios in the readiness classes. Id., at 38a-42a.

In reviewing the final order demanding repayment, the Court of Appeals acknowledged that the Secretary's interpretation of the supplanting prohibition was reasonable and would govern subsequent grants. 717 F.2d, at 946-947, 948. Nonetheless, the court concluded that Kentucky was not liable for misusing Title I funds during fiscal year 1974. The Court of Appeals viewed the issue to be "the fairness of imposing sanctions upon the Commonwealth of Kentucky for its 'failure to substantially comply' with the requirements [of Title I]." Id., at 947, quoting 20 U. S. C. §§ 1234b(a), 1234c(a). The statute and regulations concerning supplanting, the court maintained, were not "unambiguous." 717 F.2d, at 948. Moreover, Congress specifically gave state and local officials discretion to develop particular programs to be supported by Title I funds. Ibid. In these circumstances, the Court of Appeals concluded that it would be unfair to assess a penalty against Kentucky where there was no evidence of bad faith and the disputed programs complied with a reasonable interpretation of the law. Ibid. Relying on Pennhurst State School and ...


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