National Reports Spotlight Title I Formula Inequities

Last Updated: February 25, 2010

This article appeared in the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Two reports recently published by prominent Washington, DC think tanks reinforce what RPM readers have learned about the formula for distributing Title I funds — it discriminates against disadvantaged students in small, high poverty school districts.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, headed by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, has released Current Challenges and Opportunities in Preparing Rural High School Students for Success in College and Careers. The report collects and revisits a lot of useful statistics about rural education and walks through some of the important issues around recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers, providing demanding courses, and expanding student supports.

In the section on “fair and adequate federal investments,” it specifically deplores the use of a weighting system that sends more money wherever there are more disadvantaged students, even if they represent a small portion of a huge student population. That so-called “number weighting” system results in more federal money going to prosperous but large suburbs while less goes to small districts with high concentrations of poverty.

Unfortunately, Current Challenges makes no policy recommendations.

Not so with Bitter Pill, Better Formula, published by the Center for American Progress. In this report, CAP issues a call for an entirely new Title I formula. Authors Raegen T. Miller and Cynthia G. Brown, offer a single formula to replace the current four-part formula, and explicitly urge eliminating the use of number weighting and shifting more funding to smaller high poverty districts.

Bitter Pill, Better Formula proposes a much simpler Title I formula that most people could actually understand, and that, of course, is its political Achilles Heel. Privilege begets complexity in funding formulas, and the privileged large districts have feathered their nest with “number weighting” just as the privileged small, low-poverty states have used the so-called “small state minimum” to guarantee themselves more than their fair share of the money. In the proposed formula, these oxen are gored in favor of transparency and simplicity.

It is significant that discrimination against rural schools in the Title I formula is getting so much attention from these national think tanks. It suggests that the time is right to fix the Title I formula.

Read more from the February 2010 Rural Policy Matters.