Many Title I Schools Don't Get Comparable Share of State and Local Funding

Last Updated: December 30, 2011

This article appeared in the December 2011 Rural Policy Matters.

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Many parents and teachers who have long suspected that their high-poverty schools are receiving less that their fair share of state and local funding may find much of interest in a new report examining this very issue.

The U.S. Department of Education report is “Comparability of State and Local Expenditures Among Schools Within Districts:A Report From the Study of School-Level Expenditures.” It finds that in 2008–09 between 39% and 47% of districts spent fewer state and local dollars per pupil in their Title I and highest-poverty schools than in their more affluent schools at the same grade level. Much, but not all, of the difference can be attributed to the salary differences between experienced highly-credentialed teachers, who tend to be concentrated in more affluent schools, and less experienced and credentialed teachers, who tend to be concentrated in higher-poverty schools.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA, currently known as No Child Left Behind) is the federal education law that provides funding through Title I to improve educational opportunity for very low-income students. ESEA requires that districts use state and local funds to provide services in Title I schools that are at least comparable to those provided in non-Title I schools. The intent of this “comparability” provision is to ensure that districts use Title I funds to provide additional assistance in high-need schools and not as compensation for inequitable distribution of state and local funds to more affluent schools.

But ESEA has allowed districts to assure compliance without demonstrating school-level expenditures, and it prohibits considering higher salaries paid to more experienced teachers when calculating comparability. Further, many districts have not historically calculated expenditures at the school level. For all these reasons, it has been difficult to determine whether services and expenditures in schools of different poverty levels are, in fact, comparable.

The lack of data changed, however, with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which required districts receiving ARRA funds to report per-pupil expenditures from state and local funds for 2008–09 on a school-by-school basis.

The study’s authors used ARRA data to compare per-pupil expenditures in Title I schools to those in non-Title I schools (at the same grade level) in the same district. In districts where all schools are Title I, the study compares per-pupil expenditures in schools in the lowest and highest quartiles (bottom and top 25%) of student poverty.

“Comparability of State and Local Expenditures…” does not examine compliance with the current Title I comparability requirement, nor does it examine comparability of resources between districts. Rather it looks at how expenditures of state and local funds vary between Title I/higher-poverty schools and other schools and what would be needed to create equity among schools, including when salaries are taken into account.

Study Findings

  • More than 40% of Title I schools had lower personnel expenditures per-pupil than non-Title I schools at the same grade level in the same district;
  • Between 39% and 47% of districts made lower expenditures of state and local funds in Title I than non-Title I schools;
  • Depending on how compliance is measured, between 18% and 28% of Title I districts would be out of compliance with an expenditures-based comparability requirement;
  • Districts that did not meet comparability tests tended to be larger than those that did;
  • Depending on whether a district rectified inequities by redistributing existing funding (a less costly remedy that involves moving some state and local funding from more affluent schools to higher poverty schools) or by increasing funding in Title I schools to the levels of funding in non-Title I schools (a more costly remedy that requires additional investments in high poverty schools), the cost of compliance would average between 1% and 4% of school-level expenditures in affected districts. However, these costs also relate to the magnitude of inequity and could be higher in highly inequitable districts. The costs of compliance are lower when considered as a percentage of the district’s total budget.
  • Rectifying inequities would significantly increase resources/expenditures (between 4% and 15%) at Title I and high poverty schools, depending on how compliance is measured. Overall costs to the district would generally be low because funds would be targeted to a relatively small number of schools and costs would be spread over the entire district.

Rural Implications

Many rural districts were not included in the study and would not be affected by a comparability determination based on school-level expenditures. That’s because these districts have only one school at each grade level. About 20% of districts in the ARRA data pool were not subject to comparability tests due to this consideration. These districts accounted for 2% of students in the ARRA pool.

The costs for achieving equity in the remaining rural districts would likely be especially dependent on the level of inequity. Some large rural districts have communities with very different poverty levels. In such cases, more affluent communities tend to have much greater political influence and ability to pull resources to their schools. These highly inequitable districts, especially those with only two or three schools at each grade level, will not be able to spread costs over many schools.

Despite the challenges of reaching equity that exist in some rural districts, high poverty rural schools are likely to be among the schools that would most benefit from a shift to a school-based expenditures method of determining comparability. These schools are among the poorest in the nation and face significant fiscal challenges, including levels of state funding that are generally lower than other schools, low local revenues to supplement state funding, and inequities in Title I funding due to number weighting (see “All Children Are Equal Act…”) that reduce the amount of funding each eligible student receives. Achieving real rather than paper equity for high-poverty rural schools would require federal oversight and vigilance, but would make a significant improvement in the educational prospects of many rural students.

Read more:

Policy Brief, “Potential Impact of Revising the Title I Comparability Requirement…:”

Link to the full report (including the Executive Summary), “Comparability of State and Local Expenditures Among Schools Within Districts: A Report From the Study of School-Level Expenditures”:

Read more from the December 2011 Rural Policy Matters.