The Charmed Prince of Good Deals


Last Updated: March 26, 2010
 

This article appeared in the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

There are good deals, and then there are really good deals in the Title I formula.

There is no deal better than Chicago's.

Chicago has a lot of poverty, no doubt about it. But at 27%, Chicago's poverty rate (that is, Title I eligibility rate) is only moderately high. It's 10 percentage points lower than either Detroit's or the average poverty rate for the 900 rural school districts with the most poverty.

But Chicago is a charmed prince when it comes to that "number weighting" privilege that artificially inflates the count of students eligible for Title I benefits. The Windy City school district hauls in $2,408 of Title I dollars for every eligible student, a rocking 66% more than the $1,476 that the poorest Rural 900 districts receive on average. Number weighting alone adds $18.6 million to Chicago's Title I take.

One of the major reasons number weighting is so beneficial to Chicago lies in the portion of the Title I formula known as the "Education Finance Incentive Grant," usually just called EFIG. Under this arcane and powerful part of the formula, the amount of money a state is eligible to receive is determined in part by how equitable the state's own school funding system is. The more equally a state spreads its own money around among its school districts, the more EFIG money it gets. It's supposed to provide an incentive for the state to have an equitable school funding system. Never mind that you couldn't find five state legislators in the country who know this incentive exists.

Once it's determined how much EFIG money a state is entitled to, the money is allocated among its districts. But wait! If a state gets fewer EFIG dollars because its own funding system is inequitable, doesn't that just hurt the very high-poverty districts that Title I is supposed to help, in effect, punishing the victims for the sins of the perpetrator?

Enter the number weighting provision to little notice but much effect. The weighting system is applied under EFIG only after the state share is determined, supposedly to move EFIG money away from districts presumed to be favored under the state's inequitable funding system, and send it to districts presumed to be disfavored. Under EFIG, the weighting system only affects distribution of funds within the individual states, not between states. But it is a super powerful weighting system.

Under EFIG, there are actually three separate sets of weighting brackets. One set of brackets uses weights that are identical to those used elsewhere in Title I. But the other two are super and super-duper weighting systems with substantially heavier weights. Which weighting system is used in a given state? It depends on how inequitable the state's funding system is, of course.

If it's reasonably equitable, no need to really fret over those high poverty schools, so the standard weighting system is used. If it's somewhat worse, the state gets socked with the super heavy weighting system, and more of the money goes to districts that benefit from weighting the student count (and that means mostly larger districts that benefit from number weighting, whether they are high-poverty districts or not).

Only the ultra inequitable states are clobbered with the super-duper weighting system under EFIG, and there are currently only two — Louisiana and Illinois.

Under the super-duper number weighting system used under EFIG in these two states, a large district can have some Title I students who count as many as six times in the number weighting bracket. There is only one district in these two states large enough to achieve this state of bliss — Chicago.

Overachieve is more like it. This school year, Chicago places over 102,000 of its 138,000 Title I formula students in the super-duper top-weighted EFIG number bracket, where each counts as six students. As a result, those 138,000 students are magically transformed into well over 759,000 students when it comes to divvying up the EFIG pie in Illinois.

That's a big part of the reason why Chicago gets 66% more money per Title I student than the average Rural 900 district with a poverty rate well over one-third higher than Chicago's.

We wonder if Education Secretary Arne Duncan knew how blessed he was when he was Superintendent of the City of Chicago School District. More important, we wonder if he knows now that he is responsible for leading change in federal education policy?

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Read more from the March 2010 Rural Policy Matters.