Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, with Vice President Mike Pence. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The education secretary wants to withhold the federal funding because three Connecticut schools are in a sports league that allow trans athletes to play on teams that match their gender identity.

The Education Department is threatening to withhold millions in federal funding from Connecticut schools because they won’t withdraw from an athletic conference that allows transgender students to compete on teams that match their gender identity. 

The Office for Civil Rights told officials at three Connecticut school districts that it will withhold the funding on Oct. 1 if the districts do not cut ties with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference because of its transgender policies.

School officials argue that the conference, which oversees high school athletics in the state, adheres to Connecticut law. 

The federal grant money is usually spread over five years and totals about $45 million. The remaining $18 million was intended for school districts in New Haven, Hartford, and southeastern Connecticut that operate magnet schools with assistance from a federal desegregation plan. The funding typically helps Black and Hispanic communities attend high-performing schools outside of their districts. 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has urged similar “school choice” programs for decades and has worked to expand them during her time in office. President Donald Trump has also highlighted the issue in his campaign for reelection. But the administration has chosen to fight over transgender-policy issues instead of backing their own preferred schooling system.

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has gone after policies that aim to protect transgender students. The Education Department rolled back guidance implemented under the Obama administration that encouraged schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity. 

The threat to withhold funding that goes towards desegregation efforts, however, is perhaps the department’s most forceful move to end protections for transgender students. 

Angela Morabito, who serves as a spokeswoman for the Education Department, told the New York Times that the department gave school districts multiple opportunities to withdraw from the sports league before threatening to pull the funding. 

“It’s not extortion to require school districts to follow federal law,” Morabito said. “In fact, it’s the opposite. Congress requires the department to withhold funds from schools that aren’t in compliance with the law.”

The Education Department in May warned the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference that it considers allowing trans athletes who are assigned male at birth to participate in girls’ sports a violation of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funding. 

“Connecticut applicants declined, on multiple occasions, to assure the Office of Civil Rights that they are in compliance with Title IX,” Morabito said.

Such a drastic cut would threaten Connecticut’s magnet program, according to school officials. There are also larger implications that go beyond the high school level. According to Michael H. Graner, who serves as the superintendent of Groton Public Schools, the programs at risk from the funding cut have nothing to do with transgender athletes. 

Graner explained that he would be forced to lay off four teachers at middle schools that don’t have sports teams and pull other parts of the desegregation programs.

“We’re talking about this year’s budget,” Graner told the New York Times. “The teachers are already working. The buses are already transporting the children. This would destabilize the magnet system.”