2022 Investigative & Public Service Reporting (Large Newsroom) and Hechinger Prize Winners

Jodi S. Cohen & Jennifer Smith Richards, ProPublica & Chicago Tribune

About the Winners:

In 2015, Illinois lawmakers, trying to stop overly punitive school discipline, prohibited schools from fining students for minor misbehavior. In their groundbreaking investigation “The Price Kids Pay,” reporters Jodi S. Cohen of ProPublica and Jennifer Smith Richards of the Chicago Tribune exposed how schools found a loophole.

Instead of fining students directly, schools referred students to police, who ticketed students more than 12,000 times during the past three years with fines as high as $750. Dozens of school districts, the reporters found, broke state law by referring students to police for truancy.

In exposing this statewide practice, Cohen and Smith Richards filed more than 500 public records requests. They drove hundreds of miles to attend hearings. And they painstakingly built a searchable database, providing the public with the most comprehensive data of school ticketing ever.

Comments From the Judges:

“The solid, dogged reporting here exposed how schools, local police and pseudo-courts turned minor school infractions into potentially devastating debts for families and trumped-up records that could follow students through life. It is shameful that local authorities were involved in this way, but they clearly benefited from the ability to extort money from families (mostly people of color) while schools managed to remove and discourage attendance by students they deemed a problem. The impact from these stories was immediate and widespread as state and local officials pledged to actually obey state law and stop the practices that were harmful to so many.”

“There is so much to love about this series. The findings are damning and clearly explained. The stories are filled with specific examples that make you want to shake your head again and again. I love how they keep hammering the absurdity and counter-productive nature of this by just stating facts. They go the extra step to connect the dots for readers in a way that is very effective. The amount of work that went into these articles were tremendous and it shows. In addition to the work with public records and data analysis, there are so many indications of skillful interviewing throughout the piece.”