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Title I

Harkin ESEA Reauthorization Bill is Silent on Title I Funding Formulas

October 13, 2011

Earlier this week, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) released his proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind). Much has already been said about the various changes proposed in the bill, including a move to college and career ready standards, changes to accountability provisions, and changes to school improvement interventions. (For some good summaries and analyses see here and here.) But few have mentioned a reform clearly missing from the proposed legislation: Any discussion of funding formulas for Title I.

Back in August, Ed Money Watch wrote that Congress was gearing up for a formula fight as part of ESEA reauthorization. Formula fights – which involve congressional staff members negotiating funding formulas to distribute Title I funds among states and school districts that both provide support for the education of disadvantaged students benefit each of their states as much as possible – are notoriously long, heated, and tend to produce odd formulas (i.e. hold-harmless, set-asides, small state minimums, etc.) in the name of political compromise. So it’s no surprise that Harkin’s bi-partisan bill leaves the existing funding formulas untouched in the interest of maintaining the peace.

But there are many good reasons that lawmakers should take up the formula fight in earnest, even if it does further delay reauthorization.

Currently, Title I funding ($14.5 billion in fiscal year 2011) is distributed through four complicated funding formulas that each assess poverty slightly differently. The formulas are opaque and difficult to interpret – some state officials don’t even fully grasp the mechanisms by which the funds are distributed – but here is the gist of each:

  • The Basic grant formula distributes funds based on the number of poor students in a state or district. The lion’s share of Title I funding - $6.6 billion out of $14.5 billion 2011 - is distributed through this un-nuanced formula that does little to ensure that districts with the most poverty receive the most support.
  • The Concentration grant formula provides funds to districts with 15 percent or more students living in poverty. The smallest portion of funds - $1.4 billion out of $14.5 billion in 2011 – is distributed through this formula.
  • The Targeted grant formula gives more funding per pupil to districts with higher concentrations of poor students, meaning those districts receive more funds per poor student as the percentage of students in poverty increases. However, it also favors large districts because it provides more funding to districts with higher numbers of poor students through weighting. This formula was written into the law in 1994 and received $3.3 billion of $14.5 billion in 2011.
  • The Education Finance Incentive Grant formula rewards states with more equitable funding formulas by taking into account a state’s fiscal effort—the percentage of per capita income devoted to education—as well as how equitably the state’s school finance system distributes state and local funding for education. Within states, funding is distributed to school districts in a manner similar to the Targeted grant formula, except that it provides extra weight to poor students in districts in "bad school finance states." This formula was written into the law in 1994 and received $3.3 billion of $14.5 billion in 2011.

But ultimately, these formulas do not always distribute funds as they are intended to because they also take into account state size, per pupil expenditure, and even the degree to which a state equitably funds low- and high-income schools. In other words, the formulas are riddled with political agendas, logrolling and compromises.

While these nuances are supposed to guarantee states a certain level of funding, account for the cost of providing an education in a given state, or reward states with more equitable funding formulas, they often undermine the intent of the law. As a result, states like Wyoming receive far more support per poor pupil than much more impoverished states like Arkansas and New Mexico.

Changing the way these nuances factor into the funding formulas could ensure that districts with high concentrations of poverty receive more funding per poor pupil. Revising the Title I funding formulas would also give Congress a chance to make sure that rural and small school districts get their fair share of funds.  By eliminating provisions that give more funding to larger districts (called number weighting) and changing the way the formulas take state per pupil spending into account, Congress could bolster struggling small and rural districts that often take the largest hit during economic downturns.

It’s highly possible that the House lawmakers will introduce changes to the Title I funding formulas as negotiations continue on ESEA reauthorization. So far, the House has not released any legislative language regarding the formulas. Similarly, a Senator could choose to take on the task and offer an amendment to the Harkin bill that revises the formulas. Regardless of where it comes from, we hope that Congress includes a discussion of Title I funding formulas in its reauthorization process and ensures that Title I funds are able to do as they are intended – to provide additional services to the students that need them most.

Harkin's ESEA Reauthorization Bill Makes Strides in Fixing Title I Teacher Comparability

October 11, 2011

Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) proposed a draft piece of legislation for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind). The current law expired in 2007 (though it has been extended) and education stakeholders have been impatiently waiting for Congress to take up a real reauthorization attempt. While the bill is full of interesting new proposals for the law, we thought we would first take a look at how the law deals with teacher comparability, a hot button issue among teachers unions, civil rights groups, and researchers. The Harkin bill makes great strides in comparability, including some ideas that we have supported to eliminate many of the current problems with the rule.

As a refresher, teacher comparability refers to a current provision of Title I that requires school districts to provide equitable state and local resources to both their low-income (Title I schools) and their higher-income (non-Title I schools).  School districts currently demonstrate that they are meeting the comparability requirements under Title I by comparing state and local resources (i.e. per pupil expenditures) provided to their low-income Title I schools and their higher-income non-Title I schools. To meet the comparability requirement, resources provided to the Title I schools cannot be more than 10 percent below those provided to non-Title I schools.

Under the Harkin bill, starting in the 2015-16 school year, districts would be required to demonstrate comparability by showing that combined state and local expenditures per pupil – including actual expenditures on salaries and benefits – in their Title I schools (low-income) are not less than the average per-pupil expenditures in non-Title I schools. Districts where all of their schools are Title I would need to show that that the average per pupil expenditure in its higher-poverty schools is equal to that in its lower-poverty schools. Prior to the 2015-16 school year, districts would be held to the existing comparability rules to allow them to prepare for the transition.

These changes go a long way in fixing comparability as it currently stands. First, it eliminates the option for districts to demonstrate comparability through measures other than expenditures like teacher-student ratios. This means that comparability would truly become a measure of funds spent, rather than a comparison of easy to document but hard-to-quantify resources.

Second, it requires that expenditures in low- and high-income schools be equivalent – not within 10 percent. This would give districts far less leeway in variations in funding for their schools. While a 10 percent difference may seem small, it can mean the difference between several teaching positions in some schools or a faculty of less experienced teachers.

But most importantly, the Harkin bill closes what has come to be called the “comparability loophole” that allows districts to ignore variations in teacher compensation due to years of experience in their per pupil expenditure calculations for Title I and non-Title I schools. By allowing districts to overlook such variation in teacher pay, the current law perpetuates the uneven distribution of teachers. Because more experienced, and therefore higher paid teachers, tend to work in high-income schools, low-income Title I schools employ primarily less experienced, lower-paid teachers. As a result, high-income schools receive a greater share of state and local funds to pay for their teachers than low-income schools. Closing the loophole by requiring districts to use actual salary and benefits expenditures in schools will help ensure that low-income schools receive sufficient funds to either compensate more experienced teachers or implement other programs, like teacher incentives or additional after school support, to provide their students with the services and support they need. The bill also contains a provision that would require districts to make the comparability data publicly available.

While the Harkin bill does make great changes to comparability, it falls short in specifying how districts would be required to comply with this new, stricter version of the rule. Even for districts that are already using real measures of expenditures to demonstrate comparability, moving from a 10 percent comparability threshold to a complete equivalence will be a challenge. Past proposals for fixing comparability (like Congressman Chaka Fattah’s (D-PA) ESEA Fiscal Fairness Act) have either suggested phasing in the new threshold or requiring districts to submit plans for how they will reach the new threshold. The Harkin bill currently lacks such provisions. The Harkin bill also doesn't touch on the issue of teacher transfers as a means to meeting comparability - likely to be controversial with teachers unions and other groups.

Of course, the Harkin bill is the first draft of what is likely to be many in the process towards reauthorizing ESEA. Congress will have plenty of opportunities to tinker with the comparability provision, as well as the other major proposals in the bill. Check back with Ed Money Watch as this process continues.


The GOP Proposal for Extreme School-Funding Flexibility

August 18, 2011

States and local school districts have long called for more flexibility in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), whose latest rendition is No Child Left Behind. Last month the House Education and the Workforce Committee proposed a solution by advancing the “State and Local Funding Flexibility Act.”

Congress Gearing Up for a Title I Formula Fight

August 9, 2011

Last week, the Title I-derland blog wrote that Congress is gearing up for a Title I formula fight as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA – currently known as No Child Left Behind) reauthorization process. Given the complicated legacy of the current Title I funding formulas, this is likely to further delay the introduction of a complete ESEA reauthorization bill.

A formula fight is exactly what it sounds like – congressional staff members gather around a table and work out a funding formula (or in this case formulas) that distributes Title I funds among states and school districts in accordance with the program’s stated goal – to provide support for the education of disadvantaged students. Of course, staff members will also aim to ensure that the formula(s) benefits each of their states as much as possible – no member of Congress will vote for a program that shortchanges his or her state or district.

It should be no surprise that the resulting formulas often obscure the relationship between funding and poverty. Currently, Title I funding is distributed through four complicated funding formulas that each assess poverty slightly differently. The Basic grant formula distributes funds based on the number of poor students. The Concentration grant formula provides funds to districts with 15 percent or more students living in poverty. The Targeted grant formula gives more funding per pupil to districts with higher concentrations of poor students. Finally, the Education Finance Incentive Grant formula distributes rewards districts in states with more equitable funding formulas.

Not only do these formulas take into account the number or concentration of poor students in a given district or state, but they also take into account state size, per pupil expenditure, and even the degree to which a state equitably funds low- and high-income schools. While these considerations were intended to guarantee states a certain level of funding, account for the cost of providing an education in a given state, or reward states with more equitable funding formulas, they often undermine the intent of the law.

Ed Money Watch has previously written on this issue, showing that annual Title I allocations per poor pupil do not always benefit school districts with the highest percentages of poor students. In fact, districts in different states with similar poverty rates often receive dramatically different Title I allocations per poor pupil. Read more about this issue here, here, and here.

While it may be tempting to scrap the existing formulas and start over, the legislative process is unlikely to be so simple. Luckily, several organizations have already proposed solutions to the formula problem. The Rural Schools and Community Trust would like to ensure that rural and small school districts get their fair share of funds by eliminating provisions that give more funding to larger districts (called number weighting) and changing the way the formulas take state per pupil spending into account.

The Center for America Progress proposes to replace the existing four formulas with a single formula that would distribute funds based on a weighted count of the number of students in poverty, a cost factor based on the Comparable Wage Index, and a measure of fiscal effort for each state.

In reality, it is more likely that Congress will tinker at the margins of the existing formulas to help ensure a greater degree of equity across states and school districts. Two of the funding formulas – Basic and Concentration – have been part of ESEA for decades and are likely to remain. The Targeted and Education Finance Incentive Grant (EFIG) Formulas, on the other hand, were first written into law in 1994 and are more likely to be the subject of revision. For example, Representative Glenn Thompson (D-PA) recently introduced a bill, called the All Children Are Equal Act, which would alter the Targeted and EFIG formulas to benefit smaller school districts.

Though it’s clear that ESEA reauthorization is still far off, especially given the recent hoopla over Secretary Arne Duncan’s NCLB accountability waiver plan, a formula fight will surely make an already complicated process even more so. However, because the current Title I formulas are flawed to the point of undermining the program, it will be a battle worth fighting for Congress. Better formulas will go a long way in ensuring that Title I funds are supporting the states, districts, and students that need them the most.

GAO Report Reveals Wide Variation in State Implementation of School Improvement Grants

August 2, 2011

Since the Obama administration reshaped the School Improvement Grant program, it’s been hard to pin down what exactly states and schools are doing with the funds. The program, which received an infusion of $3 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, provides funds that states award to school districts to support school turnaround efforts. Though the new program is more prescriptive than it previously was, the Department of Education allowed states considerable flexibility in structuring how local school districts apply for and receive funds. A recent GAO report seeks to bring some clarity to this issue through case studies in six states on the early stages of the School Improvement Grant (SIG) process. The report reveals one common theme: Every state did things differently, likely leading to dramatically different results.

While some states awarded SIG funds to every eligible school that applied, other states awarded funds more selectively, based on district capacity to implement reforms and the degree to which districts submitted innovative proposals. This means that schools in some states received larger grants, on average, than schools in other states because fewer schools received awards over all. It also means that schools in states that were selective may be more likely to succeed in improving student outcomes because those schools were already more prepared to do so.

Similarly, some states implemented strong oversight of and assistance to recipient schools and required schools to partner with external providers, while others did not. For example, Ohio brought in experts to work directly with schools, while Rhode Island relied primarily on U.S. Department of Education (ED) guidance to assist schools. For most states, the decision was made based on funding and capacity – states with more resources were able to provide recipients with more support. This inconsistency could also put schools at an advantage in states with more thorough oversight given that they have a more complete support system.

However the report finds that the states did face some common challenges implementing the SIG funds. For example, states found that schools in rural areas faced hurdles even when selecting a school reform model. In many cases, rural schools could not choose the Closure model (one of the four reform models schools can choose to implement using the funds) because there were no other local schools for students to attend instead and could not choose the Restart model, which requires schools to reopen as a charter school, because there were no local charter operators. Schools in rural areas also had problems implementing reforms due to lack of capacity, including the ability to attract highly-qualified teachers.

The GAO also found that states struggled with the timing of the grant application process and the resulting short implementation time-frame for turnaround efforts. Many states suggested that ED did not approve their applications in a timely enough manner to allow them sufficient time to create and implement the district application process. As a result, school districts had to apply to states over Summer of 2010 so that they could start their interventions programs by Fall of 2010. Similarly, recipient schools did not feel that they had ample time to plan for their turnaround process. This meant that some schools missed state deadlines to hire or fire teachers or even had to delay implementation by a full year.

It comes as no surprise that states varied widely in how they structured grant competitions for SIG funds. However, it is clear that this variation, coupled with a host of challenges both states and schools faced, will likely undermine the effectiveness of the SIG program in many states. Though the ED will continue to monitor progress at the state and school level, it should also take these challenges into consideration as it implements future rounds of the SIG program. Though SIG is unlikely to get another $3 billion infusion, Congress has continually appropriated more than half of a billion dollars to the program. Similarly, the ED should collect best practices from states with high success rates and share them with other states. By creating a formal channel through which states can share best practices (i.e. community of practice) in the school turnaround process that spans the nation, ED may be able to bolster the effectiveness of the School Improvement Grant program.

Study of Title I Expenditures Reveals Unique Needs of Low-Income Districts

July 19, 2011

Title I, Part A, the largest federal K-12 education program, is often considered sacred during budget negotiations. The program, which will provide $14.5 billion to school districts in fiscal year 2011, was created in 1965 by the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act to boost funding in school districts with high concentrations of low-income students. Despite the program’s status in budget negotiations, though, champions of the program rarely discuss how the funds are actually used in schools and whether they have a significant impact. Last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that examines the use of Title I, Part A funds in a sampling of schools around the country. Interestingly, the authors find distinctly different spending patterns in high-poverty and low-poverty districts, suggesting that Title I funds may not actually be going where they are needed most.

For example, the report finds that the high-poverty schools sampled spent a high percentage of their Title I funds on instructional support staff (like instructional aides and social workers, among other professionals), whereas low-poverty schools spent more of their funds on instructional staff (like teachers). So how can we explain these results? High-poverty schools are more likely to have higher concentrations of students saddled with major issues like homelessness, single-parent homes, or parents who are themselves less educated. Those factors increase the need for additional educational and personal support, taking away funding that would otherwise go to support teacher salaries.

Further, high-poverty schools often employ less qualified teachers than higher-income schools, reinforcing the gap between high- and low-income students. Needy schools are often staffed by teachers with less experience and fewer qualifications than those in wealthier schools, which can afford higher-quality teachers with higher salaries. Students in low-poverty districts therefore have an additional leg up on the students in higher-poverty districts who have potentially less effective teachers.

The GAO identified another factor that skews Title I spending in high-poverty schools. To comply with Title I requirements, districts with a higher percentage of schools labeled “in need of improvement” under No Child Left Behind, which tended to be larger, urban schools, must provide supplemental education services (like tutoring), offer transportation for students participating in school choice, and meet a minimum requirement for spending on professional development., It’s not surprising, then, that these districts typically spent a higher portion of their Title I funds on purchased services from outside vendors, placing further strain on their Title I budgets and drawing even more funds from instructional services to instead pay for support staff.

The GAO report also concludes that the vast majority of Title I dollars were directed to students in elementary schools. This was the case in eight of the twelve districts in the GAO’s sample. Through efforts like limits on class size, school district officials believed that the early grades offered the best opportunity to have a measurable impact on students. These results confirm an earlier U.S. Department of Education study that found 76 percent of Title I funds were targeted to elementary schools, while the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in those grades was much lower, only 57 percent.

The GAO report reaffirms much of the research available on Title I—namely, that high-poverty school districts represent students with a far more diverse set of needs, and that their schools respond in part by utilizing Title I funds to address these issues. Given that more than 90 percent of school districts receive Title I funds in some amount, the GAO report begs the question: Are too many districts getting federal funds that could have a larger impact elsewhere?

Further, Title I funds as they are currently distributed (by formula in federal law) rarely provide enough additional support to make up for existing disparities in state and local funding for low-income schools. The inconsistencies in how high- and low-poverty schools spend Title I funds confirm these patterns and suggest that many needs are still unmet. If champions of the Title I program really hope to support economically-disadvantaged students, they must look at how the dollars are used in diverse districts around the country and target those funds to the lowest-income schools most in need of funding and support.

‘Carrots, Sticks and the Bully Pulpit’ at AEI

June 1, 2011

Last week, Early Ed Watch attended an event at the American Enterprise Institute on the federal role in public education. Five panels – discussing 11 papers – explored the last 50 years of federal education policy. The point was to ask whether federal incentives, penalties and role-modeling – the “carrots, sticks and bully pulpit” of the event’s title – are doing any good in improving American education.

Budget FY12: House Committee Decides on $18 Billion Cut to Labor, ED, HHS

May 12, 2011

This is the time of year when the U.S. Congress should be starting to work on the federal budget for fiscal year 2012, which starts on October 1st. The Senate has been silent so far, but the House recently voted, 235-189, to design a budget that spent no more than $1.019 trillion, or about $31 billion less than fiscal year 2011.

Yesterday, a few more details came to light after the House's appropriations committee decided how to divvy up those billions among several buckets of federal programs in different agencies.

Mining Ed Sector's Data on School Improvement Grants

April 26, 2011

School Improvement Grants have become a point of contention in Washington and across the country. Many believe that the $4 billion program, which provides grants to help turnaround struggling schools, has become too rigid and represents intrusive federal meddling in local affairs. But few proponents or opponents of the program ever discuss in detail where the funds are actually being used and what the schools receiving them look like. Today, Ed Sector released a report, accompanied by a new data tool, which fills in some of those details. The tool, which provides an interactive map of School Improvement Grant (SIG) recipients, is based on a wealth of data on the 843 schools that have received SIG grants so far. In addition to the tool, Ed Sector has made these data available to the public so we can find out even more on our own.

The Ed Sector report, A Portrait of School Improvement Grantees, gives a great run down of the basics. Of the 843 grantees so far, more than half – 58 percent – are in urban areas. Of the remaining schools 18 percent are rural, 17 percent suburban, and 7 percent in towns as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics. Nearly half of the recipients are high schools – a new pattern for SIG recipients because most high schools do not receive Title I funds. Twenty percent are middle schools, 24 percent are elementary schools, and 6 percent are “other” types of schools like K-8 or 7-12 schools. And the vast majority of grantees – 73 percent – selected the transformation model for their improvement strategy. This model is considered the least rigorous of the options. Twenty-one percent chose the turnaround model, 4 percent are restarting, and 2 percent are closing entirely.

Using the data provided by Ed Sector, we can look deeper into these patterns. For example, we find that of the 19 schools that chose closure as their improvement model, 9 are high schools (47.4 percent), 8 are middle schools (42.1 percent), and 2 are primary schools (10.5 percent). Of the schools that chose the turnaround model, 67 are high schools (38.7 percent), 40 are middle schools (23.1 percent) and 60 are primary schools (34.7 percent). This shows that the distribution of schools within each improvement model varies significantly by school level.

The Ed Sector data also includes some information on the demographics of students who attend the SIG recipient schools (data are from 2008). The average free and reduced price lunch rate at high schools that received a SIG grant is 67.6 percent. This is significantly less than the FRPL rate at middle and primary schools, which is 80.0 percent and 81.2 percent, respectively. However, high schools typically under identify students eligible for free or reduced price lunch, which could explain why the FRPL rate at these schools is so much lower. Unsurprisingly, the FRPL rate was also higher at rural and urban schools - 71.2 percent and 76.0 percent respectively - than at suburban schools – 68.9 percent.

Finally, we can explore some details about the size of the SIG grants different types of schools will receive. For example, the average size of a total SIG grant is $2,409,716 for a high school, $2,376,471 for a middle school, and $1,972,235 for a primary school. Urban schools get the largest SIG grants, an average of $2,494,640, and rural schools get the smallest, an average of $1,708,965. Interestingly, this does not directly follow school enrollment patterns. While rural schools are by far the smallest – an average enrollment of 411 students, suburban schools are the largest with an average of 912 students.

Ed Sector’s new data tool provides an important resource as the SIG discussion continues. It provides valuable information on which schools are receiving grants and their characteristics. Hopefully data will continue to be available on SIG grantees, continuing expenditures, and even measures of success. This is the information that should determine the future of the School Improvement Grant program, not complaints over federal intrusion.

To download a spreadsheet containing this data, click here.

Another Voice in the On-going Comparability Discussion

April 21, 2011

Here at Ed Money Watch, we have written extensively about the Title I comparability provision. This provision seeks to ensure that Title I schools receive equitable state and local resources compared to non-Title I schools. Comparability has been a popular topic lately, from a recent conference at the Center for American Progress and a new bill that would strengthen the provision introduced in the Senate. The Fordham Institute recently added its divergent voice to the chorus of proposals related to comparability in its new ESEA Briefing Book. Instead of suggesting Congress strengthen the provision, Fordham suggests eliminating it entirely.

Current law allows school districts to meet the federal comparability rule through various methods that do not reflect the actual distribution of state and local funds between low- and high- income schools. These include student-teacher ratios and district-wide salary schedules. Even when districts use per pupil expenditures to demonstrate comparability, they can ignore variation in teacher salary due to years of experience, the most significant driver of teacher pay.

More experienced, and therefore higher paid, teachers tend to work in higher-income schools, while low-income, Title I schools tend to employ less experienced, lower-paid teachers. As a result, higher-income schools receive a greater share of state and local funds to pay for their teachers than low-income schools. But the current comparability requirements never show these inequities. This is known as the comparability “loophole.”

Most proposals to improve comparability include requiring districts to use actual per pupil expenditures, including variation in salary due to experience, to demonstrate comparability. They also want to increase the level of required equity from 90 percent to 95 or even 97 percent. These changes would ensure that Title I schools actually receive equal state and local funding as non-Title I schools.

Fordham also believes that current comparability provisions do not work and should be replaced. However, rather than strengthen the provision, Fordham suggests phasing out comparability entirely and instead requiring school districts to annually report school-level financial data including information on actual teacher salaries. This would provide local parents, teachers, and other stakeholders with the information they need to determine existing inequities and fix them. Strengthening comparability, on the other hand, would be an “enormous new federal intrusion into the operations of local school districts” and would be difficult to monitor.

While Ed Money Watch is the first to champion increased transparency in funding for public education, we can’t help but be skeptical about this proposal. Without a policy lever that requires districts to ensure equitable funding, it would likely be difficult to enforce the redistribution of state and local funds that stakeholders might demand as a result of increased transparency. We have long known that resources are not equitably distributed between high- and low-income schools and yet the inequalities remain.

Similarly, it is important to remember that the parents of students in low-income schools often have the least access to data and information, despite increased transparency. If only parents of students in higher-income schools are advocating for funding, how can we ensure that students in low-income schools will be fairly represented?

It is fair to say that the comparability provision – both the current version and any potential strengthened version – represent a federal intrusion into local operations. But sometimes that intrusion is a necessary means to an important end – ensuring that low-income students receive equitable state and local resources. Until we can ensure that, districts across the country will continue to use Title I funds to fill gaps in funding for low-income schools, instead of to provide the additional services their students need.

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