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Chapter 1 Formula Plan Hot Topic in States, Districts

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WASHINGTON--State and local education officials generally praise the course the Clinton Administration has charted in its plan to revamp Chapter 1, particularly its emphasis on using the compensatory-education program as a mechanism to promote broader school reform.

But the officials interviewed also voiced disagreement with some aspects of the proposed legislation.

And a contentious proposal to alter the Chapter 1 funding formula--in an effort to target more dollars to the poorest students--has dominated discussion in the field.

"The formula is the big talk, and depending on whether you lose or gain money, you're happy or sad,'' said Bruce Hunter, an associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. "You're either hiring teachers or firing them.''

In its proposal to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Clinton Administration called for what would be the most substantial reworking of Chapter 1 since the law was first enacted in 1965. (See Education Week, Sept. 22, 1993.)

The Administration's plan to target federal money on the highest-poverty schools calls for:

  • Increasing from 10 percent to 50 percent the percentage of Chapter 1 funds that are distributed as concentration grants, which go to high-poverty areas.
  • Raising the eligibility standard for counties to receive concentration grants from 10 poor children or a 15 percent poverty rate to 100 poor children or an 18 percent poverty rate.
  • Requiring school districts to fund their highest-poverty schools first--including middle and high schools.

The proposal also calls for an additional $700 million in Chapter 1 spending in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1, 1994.

Winners and Losers

In general, the big winners under the plan would be high-density states and urban school districts with large numbers of low-income students, while the biggest losers would be rural states and districts that are relatively affluent over all but still enroll poor students who need special services.

"There's some very good thinking, very futuristic thinking in this bill, just not enough funds,'' says Susan Donielson, the acting administrator for educational services for children, families, and communities in the Iowa Department of Education.

Iowa would lose 7.8 percent of its Chapter 1 funding in fiscal 1995 under the Clinton proposal--or even more if the legislation did not include "hold harmless'' provisions guaranteeing states at least as much as they now receive, according to the Administration's estimates.

Eighty-one of the state's 99 counties would lose money--up to 60 percent of their funds in some cases, Ms. Donielson said.

Jim Sheffer, a federal programs division chief at the Pennsylvania Department of Education, said that, although his state would increase its total Chapter 1 funding by 7.1 percent in fiscal 1995 under the plan, most of the gain would go to such large cities as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh at the expense of the state's overwhelming majority of rural counties.

Even now, he said, 65 percent of the state's Chapter 1 dollars go to fewer than 50 districts. The targeting proposal would reduce aid to more than 300 districts, he said.

Meanwhile, Janet F. Carroll, Rhode Island's coordinator of compensatory education, supports the concentration provisions, even though Chapter 1 programs in some of the smaller districts in her state--which would see an overall increase of 7 percent in compensatory-education funding in fiscal 1995--realize that "they may not be in business in 1995-96.''

Some officials who applaud a series of proposals that are intended to make Chapter 1 a vehicle to spur systemic reform say they fear the funding-formula changes would leave only schools in the highest-poverty areas with enough funding to follow through.

"The proposal for school reform is a good one because that's what we're out to do,'' said William Henry, the director of the division of federal assistance at the Ohio Department of Education. "But this is very much incumbent on the funding. If you don't buy the package, then you've got a problem.''

Added Ms. Donielson: "To expect that you're going to take a whole lot less funds and do a whole lot more--it just doesn't make sense.''

More or Less Flexibility?

While the Administration has proposed revisions designed to increase local flexibility--making it easier to operate schoolwide projects, for example--some state and local officials complained that other provisions of the Administration plan would constrict their options.

Mary Vereen, the Chapter 1 director for the Dade County, Fla., public schools, said a requirement that districts prioritize schools for Chapter 1 participation based strictly on poverty levels would prevent districts like hers from pursuing an early-intervention strategy.

"We selected to go to the very young children to prevent problems later on,'' she said, explaining that Dade County--like the majority of school districts--directs the lion's share of Chapter 1 funding to elementary schools.

"There's not much you can do other than offer survival skills'' to older students, she said.

If the Administration wants more secondary school students to participate, Ms. Carroll suggested, the government should allocate funds for a high school basic-skills program that was authorized in 1988 but has never been funded.

Ms. Donielson said a requirement that states set performance standards for Chapter 1 students would adversely affect Iowa, where state officials had decided that such standards should be set locally.

"I see that more as a top-down than a bottom-up approach,'' she said.

Officials in other states, meanwhile, said the bill's requirements would dovetail with what they are already doing.

"I'm looking for something we can move into without too much difficulty after we deal with the money side of it,'' said Joseph T. Clark, the director of the Kentucky Department of Education's division of program resources.

Schoolwide Projects

The Administration's proposal to make it easier to operate schoolwide projects, in which Chapter 1 funds are used to improve an entire school, rather than used only for eligible students, was warmly welcomed. Currently, at least 75 percent of a school's students must come from poor families for it to qualify; the Administration would gradually lower the threshold to 50 percent.

Barbara Duke, the director of instructional support services for the Clark County, Ga., public schools, was one of several officials who said launching a schoolwide project was the "catalyst for school reforms'' in a particular school.

"It's where I see us really making progress,'' she said. "We are still very traditional in using the pull-out model in our [11] other [Chapter 1] schools.''

However, some state and local officials said a proposal to allow districts to consolidate administrative funds from several progams under the E.S.E.A.--and a broader provision allowing the Secretary of Education to grant regulatory waivers--could amount to too much local flexibility.

While some officials welcomed the additional options, others suggested that there would be no way of knowing if the funds were helping the students they were intended to aid.

Most state and local officials approved of the Administration's proposal to reduce standardized testing of Chapter 1 students and evaluate programs' success as part of a broader plan to spur states to set high standards for all students and employ new forms of assessment.

But some expressed concern that a lack of easily understood data could make it difficult to assess Chapter 1's effectiveness nationally, and could even jeopardize support for the program.

The testing provisions "parallel a lot of the thinking and movement in education,'' Ms. Duke said. "But it will be difficult to give Congress the results they can analyze.''

Some officials also expressed skepticism about a proposal to require school districts to coordinate Chapter 1 activities with the programs of other social-service agencies and insure that children in schools with poverty rates of at least 50 percent receive at least two health screenings a year.

Mr. Sheffer said, for example, that he would support the proposal if the Administration would help pay for the screenings. Ms. Vereen said it is unlikely that local health programs would be willing to turn over some of their resources to the schools.

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