Feds Target Education Funds Because States Won't

So Why Do Republicans Want to Enable States to Shortchange Poor Schools?

by Charles Barone, DFER Director of Federal Policy

In the face of all the anti-federal role in education rhetoric coming from the Hill, right-wing think tanks, states, teachers' unions and even the U.S. Department of Education, one may wonder whether there are any federal requirements for education policy worth having. (Keep in mind that despite all the histrionics, federal requirements are not a criminal code. Such requirements only apply to those programs for which states accept federal funds; they are free not to apply for such funds, and avoid the accompanying strings, any time they choose.)

In a paper we presented in May, Elizabeth DeBray and I tried to identify areas where we thought the federal role in education policy was effective as well as those where we thought it was not. You can find our paper as presented here.

One key thing Liz and I pointed out is that the federal Title I law has had some notable effects over its forty-six year history. The highest poverty schools in the country - those with 75 percent or more poor students - receive 38 percent of all Title I funds. High-poverty schools that receive Title I funds get an additional $1,600 per student from the federal government. Funds for school personnel alone provide Title I schools with 10 percent more per student over and above state and local education funding.[i] 

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The amendments to Title I made by Congress via NCLB greatly increased the targeting of funds to high-poverty schools. In 2001, Title I allocated about the same amount ($800) per poor student regardless of the concentration of poverty in the school they attended. Due to the recognition that it was high-poverty schools that faced the greatest challenges in educating students, Congress changed the formula with the result that by 2010, the amount per poor student in the highest poverty schools was about 25 percent higher than the per poor pupil amount for low-poverty schools, a figure that will grow over time as Congress continues to put additional monies into the new formula. If one includes the recently passed FY2011 budget, the cumulative shift in Title I education dollars to the neediest 20 percent of schools in the U.S. since NCLB is $6.5 billion.[ii] To put it in local terms, that's a lot of bake sales.

As such, I was puzzled to see that Education Committee Chairman John Kline's "flexibility" bill (H.R. 2445) would seemingly allow states to waive the federal Title I funding formula and in the process royally screw kids in high-poverty schools.  (Ok. Maybe I was puzzled. Then again maybe not. My experience as the lead negotiator for House Democrats on NCLB was that all the talk of desired programmatic flexibility was a smokescreen for efforts to redistribute funds away from the neediest students.) 

Shame on the American Association of School Administrators and others (Chiefs - are you guys out of the closet on this yet?) who are lending their support to the bill. Let's hope it goes down in the ignominious defeat it so deserves.

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[i]  State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, Volume VI--Targeting and Uses of Federal Education Funds (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2008).

[ii]  Numbers are courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education, at the request of the author (May 2011).