Number of Poor Children Has Dropped, Census Data Show
The number of children living in poverty has declined across the nation as a whole, but some states have seen significant increases, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released last week that will be used in calculating federal aid under Title I.
An estimated 14.1 million children under age 18 lived in poverty in 1997, the most recent year for which statistics are available. That figure represents a 3.4 percent drop from 1995.
The data are used to allocate the Department of Education's basic and concentration grants under the Title I program. In fiscal 2000, which ended Sept. 30, the two grant programs were funded at a total of $7.54 billion.
But school districts will not know the data's impact until Congress passes an education appropriations bill for fiscal 2001, which may not happen until next year.
"Even though poverty has basically gone down slightly, it's clearly not uniform across the country," said Paul Brown, a program analyst with the Title I office in the Education Department. "There are some pretty significant increases in some states."
For instance, he cited that Alaska's poverty rate jumped 43 percent from 1995 to 1997, and Colorado and Connecticut saw 14 percent and 11 percent increases, respectively, in the same period. But the poverty rates in some Southern states declined. Mississippi, for instance, saw a 20 percent decrease, and Alabama saw a 7 percent drop.
If Congress increases the appropriation for concentration grants, which go to districts with the highest rates of poverty or numbers of students in poverty, those districts where poverty levels rose may receive slightly more funding in the coming school year.
The allocations hinge on whether Congress chooses to put a "hold harmless" provision for those grants in the upcoming bill, as in recent years. Such a provision would ensure that districts received at least as much money in their grants as they did the previous year. Title I's basic grants already have a hold-harmless provision.
The 1994 amendments to Title I required the Education Department to use the most recent U.S. Census estimates available. The poverty figures for districts look at the numbers of poor children ages 5 to 17 and compare those numbers with those for the general population. The formula combines the 1990 Census results with 1997 poverty estimates, compiled by counties, to determine the changes in poverty levels.
That formula was revamped because members of Congress were concerned that states with growing numbers of students in poverty were not getting a fair share of Title I aid. ("Title Holder," and "Supreme Court Split on Limits to Title I Aid," April 23, 1997.)
Vol. 20, Issue 14, Page 24