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Published in Print: July 14, 1999, as Title I Figures Reflect 'Hold Harmless' Policy

Title I Figures Reflect 'Hold Harmless' Policy

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The Department of Education unveiled final allocations last week for $8 billion in Title I aid that reflect changes in how the money is doled out but show few dramatic differences in funding for states and districts.

Thomas Corwin

The July 6 release of the final figures for the 1999-2000 school year came after nearly two weeks of delay attributed to technical errors in earlier figures first issued June 23. Thomas Corwin, the acting deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in an interview that he did not expect the delay to cause any significant problems, and that it had not impeded the July 1 availability of some Title I funds.

Looking at Title I Increases

Under the Title I allocations for the coming school year, a few states and districts will see large gains in funding. Based on percentage increases, the largest gains in combined basic and concentration grants will go to:

  • Delaware, up 15.6 percent, to $21.1 million;
  • The District of Columbia, up 14.5 percent, to $25 million; and
  • California, up 13.4 percent, to $940 million.

Among the school districts with the largest net gains in dollar terms are:
  • Los Angeles Unified School District, up $36 million, to $201 million;
  • New York City Public Schools, up $28.5 million, to $460.6 million;
  • Minneapolis Public Schools, up $10.4 million, to $14.5 million; and
  • Houston Public Schools, up $8.5 million, to $61.3 million.

In the coming school year, for the first time, Title I allocations are based on poverty data for school districts rather than counties--a change recommended by a National Academy of Sciences study--and on updated Census Bureau data from 1995.

Experts say those changes to Title I, which targets aid to disadvantaged students, will have only a minor effect on how the aid is distributed, thanks to "hold harmless" provisions that prevent states and districts from receiving less money than they did the previous year.

"With 100 percent 'hold harmless,' you don't have very much monetary shift" from year to year, said Jeff Simering, the legislative director of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the nation's largest urban school districts.

Large Gains for a Few

Still, a few states are seeing sizable increases in Title I dollars compared with last year.

The largest net gains in the basic and concentration grants that make up the bulk of the program's funding will go to California, up $110 million, or 13.4 percent, to $940 million; New York, up $48 million, or 7 percent, to $725 million; and Texas, up $30.9 million, or 4.9 percent, to $662 million. On a percentage basis, Delaware is slated for the biggest increase with a 15.6 percent jump, to $21.1 million in Title I aid for the new school year. Thirty-one states and Puerto Rico, however, saw gains of 5 percent or less. States may slightly adjust their final allocations to districts to reflect administrative costs and special circumstances.

Certain school districts--including the 700,000-student Los Angeles school system and the 49,000-student Minneapolis schools-- stand to win substantial increases in Title I funding.

The only districts to see decreases are the nearly 200 that lost eligibility entirely for basic grants, which require that a district have a minimum of 10 children living in poverty and that that number exceed 2 percent of the district's student population. Overall, 13,263 districts will receive basic grants in the new school year.

Basic and concentration grants represent the vast majority of the $8.3 billion being distributed to school districts under Title I in the coming school year; those districts with the highest number of poor children receive the most funding. Under the new allocations, $6.5 billion will be distributed through basic grants and $1.1 billion through concentration grants. Concentration grants require a higher poverty threshold than basic grants: either 15 percent or at least 6,500 students in the district must come from families in poverty.

Critics contend that the 100 percent hold-harmless measures enacted by Congress in last year's action on the current fiscal 1999 education appropriation mean that some states and districts with growing populations and more child poverty, such as California, will not receive as much additional money as they would otherwise.

Under the 1994 amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Congress set out to cushion the impact for states and districts with falling child-poverty levels by creating a gradual phaseout of Title I money that would retain 95 percent, 90 percent, or 85 percent of the previous year's level for basic grants, depending on poverty. But Congress has overridden that provision for the past several years with appropriations language ensuring that states and districts receive at least the same amount as in the previous year.

And, as part of the emergency supplemental-appropriations bill approved by Congress in May to help pay for military operations in Kosovo, lawmakers prevented roughly 1,500 districts from losing eligibility for concentration grants by adding $56.4 million for those districts.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., objected to the plan, saying that such measures prevent districts and states with rapid population growth from obtaining their fair share of Title I funding.

"This amendment sends funds to districts merely because they got funds in the previous year, not because the districts have needy children and not in proportion to the number of poor children they have," she said during floor debate in May.

Another change to Title I this year is that a much smaller percentage of its funding is available in July. Instead, roughly 80 percent of it cannot be tapped until Oct. 1, the beginning of the next federal fiscal year. Congress made the change so that money could be "advance funded," a maneuver that allows the federal dollars to be counted in the next fiscal year's budget although they are technically part of the fiscal 1999 appropriation.

Vol. 18, Issue 42, Pages 24,27

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