From the "Believe It Or Not" Basket:
The Cost of Being Small and Poor, the Charm of Being Big and Rich


Last Updated: November 29, 2009
 

This article appeared in the November 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
 
Almost 800 of the 900 rural districts with the highest rates of student poverty actually lose federal funding intended to address the educational needs of disadvantaged students due to a provision in the formula that discriminates against small school districts. In 2008-09, this provision cost these “Rural 900” high-poverty districts $54.5 million. See the map of the poorest 900 rural districts.
 
Rural 900 (click for larger image)The provision, known as “number weighting,” artificially inflates the disadvantaged student count for districts, using weights that get larger for districts with larger numbers of disadvantaged students. Two districts with the same percentage of disadvantaged students end up with sharply different student counts because each student counts more in the larger district.
 
The student count is used to determine what share of the total federal appropriation a district is entitled to receive. So if a large district gains share, smaller districts must lose share. Exactly 797 of the 900 rural districts with highest percentage of disadvantaged students lost money under the number weighting provision. The other 103 simply broke even.
 
Because number weighting benefits larger districts no matter the percentage of their students who are disadvantaged, some very low-poverty suburban districts do very well. Fairfax County Public Schools, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., gained nearly $2.8 million, or more than $275 per disadvantaged student, through number weighting, bringing its total Title I funding to $1,935 per disadvantaged student.
 
The Rural 900 districts with a combined disadvantaged student rate of over 37% lost more than $107 for each of their 509,000 disadvantaged students due to number weighting, dropping their average Title I funding to only $1,476 per disadvantaged student, one third less than Fairfax County.
 
Read more from the November 2009 Rural Policy Matters.