ACE Act Would Ease Title I Inequities

Last Updated: July 29, 2011

This article appeared in the July 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Rural citizens concerned about inequities in Title I funding have been instrumental in bringing the issue to Congress. Their work paid off this month when a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to alter the formulas that distribute Title I funds to school districts.

“All children have equal value and should be treated the same,” says Anthony Clark, president of the North Carolina Rural Education Working Group (NCREWG), an organization of rural citizens working to improve opportunity for children in the state’s rural schools.

But all children are not treated the same when it comes to the distribution of funds through Title I, the mechanism of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act that provides extra funding to schools for the education of very low-income children and youth. Since 2002, several formulas used to distribute Title I funding include a provision known as “number weighting” that allocates more money for each eligible child in large districts, no matter how low their poverty rate, than in smaller, no matter how high their poverty rate.

That inequity, however, could change. On July 13 a bi-partisan group of U.S. Representatives, led by Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pennsylvania), announced their sponsorship of the All Children are Equal (ACE) Act (HR 2485). ACE would alter the current law by lowering the weights used to artificially inflate the eligible student count in larger districts. Emphasis would instead be on providing more Title I funding for children attending schools where poverty, and its effects on educational opportunity, is most concentrated, which was the original intent of Congress when it added the weights to the formulas.

NCREWG was one of several rural organizations around the country whose members helped bring the issue to the attention of their Congressional representatives. Stephanie Smith, an NCREWG member explains that the group got information on Title I through the Formula Fairness Campaign and decided to take action. “We had a mini-seminar on number-weighting with Marty Strange and saw how much money each of our school districts was losing. Then we individually wrote letters about the issue to our representatives.”

Clark describes how Rep. G.K Butterfield of North Carolina’s 1st district, one of the co-sponsors of ACE, was especially helpful: “Congressman Butterfield has an open door policy and encourages constituents to come to him with issues and concerns. Several of us have approached him in the past and know him to be very concerned about the interests of children in eastern North Carolina. He understands how important federal programs are to help lift children out of poverty and he knows how important federal dollars are to schools because many of our school systems are poor systems.”

Clark explains that members of the group have a history of providing Rep. Butterfield with accurate, current, and reliable information. “He’s learned that we are trustworthy people so he listens intently and understands that when we share perspectives of people in our communities we are speaking truth. He acts in responsive ways, which is proven by the way he responded to information we shared about Title I.”

At the July 13 ACE press conference, Rep. Butterfield commented on the importance of his constituents in bringing this issue to his attention.

The ACE Act is greatly important to our state, where our small rural districts are losing much-needed Title I funding that could make such a difference for our students living in poverty. The situation is particularly bleak for the places where we live and work … where [as many as] forty percent of students come from families living in poverty. These…and many other South Carolina districts are victims of the flawed “number weighting” provision in the formula for allocating funds … under Title I ... The ACE Act contains the remedy for this problem, and we are pleased and hopeful about the potential for this positive change.

We appreciate your leadership on the ACE Act and welcome the opportunity to work with you and the Act’s co-sponsors through the legislative process.

ACE is one of the few bills in the 2011 Congress that enjoys bi-partisan support and sponsorship. Its original co-sponsors include Lou Barletta (R-Pennsylvania), Dan Boren (D-Oklahoma), G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina), Richard Hanna (R-New York), Ruben Hinajosa (D-Texas), Mike Kelly (R-Pennsylvania), Tom Petri (R-Wisconsin), Todd Russell Platts (R-Pennsylvania), Mike Ross (D-Arkansas), Louise Slaughter (D-New York), and GT Thompson (R-Pennsylvania).

The Rural Trust has led the effort to bring Title I inequities to the attention of Congress through its coordination of the Formula Fairness Campaign. The Campaign is co-sponsored by a 26 organizations and supported by citizens across the country working to end the problems caused by number weighting.

“When we communicate our concerns, we act as a community of interest. When the congressperson reacts to the information that we share, we are an influence community and we demonstrate the power we have as rural communities,” says Clark. “Some people think that only the rich and powerful can influence Congress, but this shows a very different perspective.

Read more from the July 2011 Rural Policy Matters.