Tuesday, January 7, 2014
As discussed here back in the fall (here and here) , the federal sequestration had perversely uneven effects on schools. Most federal money for public education flows through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its funding formulas revolve around the number of poor students a district has. So, the more poor kids a district had the more it lost under the sequestration. As federal negotiators discuss a two-year budget deal, the question is what, if any, funds to restore to education. Initial stories indicate that education would be spared continued cuts and will see some money come back.
According to Alyson Klein of Edweek, education advocates and districts are asking that the funding be restored mostly through Title I, not the competitive grant process that has dominated education spending during the present administration. One can read this a couple of ways: educators are tired of the tough medicine that the Obama administration has been feeding them through the grant process; Title I is effectively an entitlement program and districts want their checks; or Title I, although not perfectly, directs funds to serious student needs and, thus, districts realize they need it most. My take is that there is varying degrees of truth in all three. Districts are tired of the medicine because it tastes bad, but also because there are serious questions about whether it works. Districts also want their checks because everyone likes getting paid, but they also have real student needs that the money will go toward, particularly in the highest poverty districts like Philadelphia, which almost imploded this past fall due to state and federal cuts.
Regardless of the motivations, a return to formulas is great news for those of us who have studied them intently in recent years. The formulas have been entirely ignored by the current administration, as it tried to wield power through the grants. While the grant program certainly spurred a lot of legislative change in the states around expanding charters and policing teachers, it was too random and piecemeal to ensure student need was consistently met. With that said, Title I's formulas are riddled with their own flaws. Those flaws, however, are not fundamental and can be fixed by rebalancing the funding weights. For more on how Title I could meet student need, incentivize changes in state funding formulas, and increase integration, see the solutions section of this article.