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CONGRESS MUST COMPEL STATES TO FUND SCHOOLS FAIRLY
Debate Over Federal Title I Ignores State Failures on School Funding
Washington, DC -- A congressional conference committee
is currently deciding how to reconcile Senate and House bills reauthorizing
the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Conspicuously
absent from the debate is the critical need for federal policy to motivate
the States to fairly fund
their public schools.
Federal funding accounts for only about 10% of preK-12 funding.
The states, through their finance systems, determine the lion's
share of school funding, how it's distributed, and the mix of state
and local revenue. Only a handful of states provide sufficient
levels of funding and distribute that funding fairly to address
student need, as documented in Is
School Funding Fair? A National Report Card.
Many states have been unable or unwilling to make their funding
systems more equitable and adequate. It is crucial that federal
education policies pressure states to improve funding fairness.
Unfortunately for the nation's most vulnerable students, this pressing
issue has been absent from the congressional debate on ESEA reauthorization.
Federal policymakers were recently provided a blueprint for taking
leadership on school funding equity. In 2013, after two years of
deliberations, the federally-appointed Equity and Excellence Commission
issued its report, "For
Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and
Excellence," calling for "bold action by the states, and the federal
government, to redesign the funding of our nation's public schools...with
sufficient resources that are distributed based on student need."
Federal Title I
The largest single federal funding stream for public schools is
Title I, created in 1965. Originally, Title I sent additional funds
to the highest poverty, most under-funded school districts in the
nation. But Title I funding has been watered down in prior reauthorizations
This year, the Senate passed a version of the ESEA that would
allocate more Title I funds to southern and western states at the
expense of northern and eastern states. The House passed a version
that would allocate Title I funds away from large cities in favor
of smaller school districts. Neither version increases the amount
of Title I funding available for allocation.
Under Title I, about $14.5 billion is provided annually to school
districts, an amount that has remained flat for several years.
While this funding accounts for only about 2.5% of total pre-K-12
school funding nationally, it is critically important for underfunded,
The ESEA reauthorization bill recently passed by the Senate changes
Title I by taking away a built-in reward to states that exhibit
high "effort" in school funding. "Effort" measures state spending
on education relative to state fiscal capacity [See "effort" on
pages 18-21 in the National
Report Card.] If this change to Title I is accepted by the
conference committee, states would lose an important incentive
to adequately fund their schools. The House bill would reallocate
Title I funding from large urban districts to smaller districts.
The conference committee could adopt either version or reject
both and continue the current formula for distribution of Title
Maintaining the current Title I formula would only be a stop gap
measure, and would not remedy the unacceptable status quo of school
funding by the states. What's needed is a commitment from the President
and leaders in Congress to take up the deep and longstanding inequities
that inhibit educational progress in most states.
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