Large Very Low Poverty Districts Benefit in Title I Formula at Expense of High Poverty Districts Large and Small

Last Updated: December 29, 2009

This article appeared in the December 2009 Rural Policy Matters.

Imagine a formula for distributing public funds to schools that is supposed to send more money to schools with “high concentrations” of students living in poverty, but actually on average reduces funding to the highest poverty districts and increases it for all others, especially the very largest districts with the lowest poverty rates?

That’s what happens due to the provision in the Title I formula that increases funding by inflating the count of disadvantaged students in the largest school districts.

We analyzed the impact on all districts of the so-called “number weighting” provision in the Title I formula. We broke districts into four groups based on the percentage of their students that are Title I eligible (basically, this is a measure of poverty). We divided them so that each group collectively had about one-fourth of the Title I students in the nation.

The group of districts with very high poverty rates (almost 35% of students in poverty) lost nearly $34 million due to number weighting. All the other groups gained from number weighting. Even the group with the lowest poverty rate — 10% of students on average — gained over $10 million.

Of course, these are net gains and losses. Not every district in a group that gained funding overall was a winner due to number weighting. In fact, most districts in all four groups lost funding while only a handful in any group were big winners.

So we took a closer look at the very-high poverty group and the very-low poverty group to see who was winning and who was losing.

We subdivided each of these groups into four more groups, this time based on the number of Title I students in the district. Now we had four very-high poverty groups ranging from those that are very small to those that are very large, and four very-low poverty districts, again ranging from very small to very large districts.

Among the very-high poverty districts, Title I funding per disadvantaged student varies by 49%, with the largest grants going to the largest districts and with each successively smaller group of districts receiving less funding per student. The two largest groups of very high poverty districts were net winners and the two smaller groups were net losers. The two groups of smaller high-poverty districts lost nearly $128 million to number weighting.

And what about those very-low poverty districts? The two groups consisting of the largest districts gained funding due to number weighting while the two groups including the smaller districts again lost money. The group with the very largest districts alone gained over $83 million — more than the $78 million gained by the group of very-high poverty, very-large districts.

In short, large districts with low poverty rates gain more than even large districts with high poverty rates. And smaller districts simply lose, high or low poverty rates notwithstanding.

Read more from the December 2009
Rural Policy Matters.