Title I Formula Reverses Robin Hood

Last Updated: January 29, 2010

This article appeared in the January 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

Small, high poverty cities like Rochester, New York, Edinburg, Texas, and Flint, Michigan, turn out to be the biggest victims — in sheer dollar amounts — of the “number weighting” scheme used in the Title I formula to boost funding levels for the very largest districts. And much of what they lose goes to low poverty suburban districts.
The formula uses two weighting systems to artificially inflate the count of disadvantaged students. The idea is to send more money to districts with “highly concentrated” poverty. The problem is defining “highly concentrated.” Does it mean high numbers or high percentages of disadvantaged students?
Intuitively, “high concentration” means high percentage. If you have one disadvantaged student in a classroom of 20, that is less concentrated than if you have 10 disadvantaged students in a classroom of 20. And it really does not matter how many classrooms you have. Bigger is not more “highly concentrated.” If it were, a 12-ounce bottle of beer at 5% alcohol would be more highly concentrated than a shot of whiskey at 40%, and no one is trapped in that illusion.
Nonetheless, Congress chose both definitions — size and percentage — and approved two weighting systems. One system is based on the percentage of disadvantaged students in a district (“percentage weighting”), the other on the absolute number of such students (“number weighting”). Whichever approach inflates a district’s count more is the one ultimately used in the formula for that district.
The student count is important because it is a key factor in determining each district’s share of the available Title I funds. The higher the weighted student count, the bigger your share of the pie.
This system benefits very large districts, especially those with low percentages of disadvantaged students, because their inflated student count is much higher under number weighting than under percentage weighting. That gives them a much bigger share of the available funds than they would get under percentage weighting. So a large suburban district like Fairfax County, Virginia (Washington D.C. suburb), with only 6% disadvantaged students, gains $2.8 million more than it would receive if it and all other districts had to use the percentage weighting system only. Gwinnett County Schools (Atlanta suburb) with a 9% disadvantaged student rate gains $4.8 million.
But the opposite side of that coin is that moderate sized cities with very high disadvantaged student percentages lose. If percentage weighting were applied to all districts, these districts would get a fair share of Title I funding. But these districts are not big enough to benefit from number weighting, so those that do soak up Title I funds that would otherwise go to these districts. Compared to what they would receive if the formulas used only percentage weighting, Rochester (with a 36% disadvantaged student rate) loses $2.6 million, Flint (37%) loses $2.0 million, and Edinburg (48%) loses $1.3 million.
This is Robin Hood in reverse, taking from the poor to give to the rich.

Read more from the January 2010 Rural Policy Matters.