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Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is intended to provide education funding to states and school districts with high concentrations of low-income and disadvantaged students. Funding for Title I is distributed to states and school districts according to a complex and outdated formula. The unintended consequence of this formula is that it hurts small school districts with high concentrations of low-income students and disproportionately favors small states, states that already make significant investments in education, and large school districts.
The Title I student count for a district is "weighted" in two ways: (1) based on the percentage of Title I eligible students in the district; or (2) based on the total number of Title I eligible students in the district. The use of "number weighting," favors large school districts at the expense of smaller districts with high poverty rates. Since the formula is used to calculate each district’s share of a fixed pot of Title I funding, any funding gain for one district comes at the expense of other districts.
Title I funding varies from state to state based on the average amount each state spends per pupil in its public schools. The formula is designed this way in order to account for state-to-state differences in the cost of providing schooling. In practice, however, it unfairly allocates funding based on state-to-state differences in wealth and political commitment to education. This hurts high poverty school districts in states that don’t spend much on education.
The third cause of Title I funding inequities results from the fact that certain states get special treatment simply because they are small. The formula provides that no state will receive less than 0.3 percent of the total Title I appropriation, no matter how small its calculated share turns out to be. This “small state minimum” gives 12 small states with low levels of poverty a generous stake in the Title I program—and no reason to address the inequities in the funding formula.
A revision of the Title I funding formula is necessary to ensure that ALL children are given an equal opportunity to succeed no matter where they live. Since some states stand to gain more than others from changes to the Title I funding formula, revision faces significant political hurdles as the 111th Congress looks to reauthorize ESEA. However, in the world’s richest nation, we cannot be satisfied with a system that inequitably funds the education of our most vulnerable children based on a child’s zip code. As the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress pursue education reform, a revision of the Title I funding formula is absolutely necessary to ensure that ALL children are given equal opportunity to succeed.