Senate Spending Bill Would Bolster Title I 'Targeting' to Poor Schools
The Senate, in a break from its past stance, agreed last week to distribute a portion of Title I aid under a formula that seeks to better target money to high-poverty school districts.
On a 81-19 vote, the Senate on Nov. 1 approved an amendment to the education spending bill, offered by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., that in fiscal 2002 reserves $1 billion for so-called "targeted" grants.
Because the House education spending bill and President Bush's proposed budget also contain money for targted grants, such grants now appear to be on track for first-time funding.
The proposed change came as part of an appropriations bill that would increase overall discretionary spending at the Department of Education by $6.3 billion, to $48.5 billion. The Senate is expected to resume consideration of the bill this week.
Critics have long complained that money under the Title I program for disadvantaged students— which the Senate bill would fund at $10.2 billion, a 16 percent increase—is spread too far and wide. According to the Education Department, one in five schools with a poverty rate between 50 percent and 75 percent receives no Title I aid ("Off Target?," Sept. 5, 2001.)
"The inclusion of these funds in the education appropriations bill is really a historic decision by the United States Senate," Sen. Landrieu said in a statement.
The House has traditionally set aside some Title I money for targeted grants, but the Senate has long been considered a roadblock. President Bush this year proposed to reserve $459 million for the targeted grants in fiscal 2002, which began Oct. 1.
Proposed changes to the formula for distributing Title I money have been difficult politically because they involve shifting money from one place to another. Currently, the aid is distributed under two formulas: basic and concentration grants.
The targeted-grants formula was first adopted in 1994 as part of the last revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, but it has never been funded. The distinctive feature of the formula is that it would provide larger grants to districts as the percentage or number of poor children in a district increased.
The Landrieu amendment approved last week shifted $1 billion from basic- and concentration-grant funding to targeted grants. To gain broader support, the amendment also contained a second formula change favored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Education Department budget.
It shifted another $650 million to education-finance incentive grants, also created in 1994 but never funded. Those grants are designed to reward states in which the disparity in spending between districts is small and where spending on schools is high relative to income.
But the prospects that funding for those incentive grants will survive the rest of the appropriations process are less certain. The House spending bill contains no money for such grants, nor did the president request any.
Meanwhile, the Senate last week defeated an amendment offered by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would have abolished the federal school repair program and shifted its $925 million to Title I.
"In the recent past, we have neglected to give Title I ample increases, because the previous administration was too busy promoting ... narrow new programs such as school construction and class-size initiatives, which are most appropriately handled at the state and local level," Sen. Gregg said.
When the Senate completes its education spending bill, the next step will be for the House and Senate to work out differences between their versions. The House bill includes slightly more for the Education Department, a $7 billion increase, for a total of $49.3 billion.
Both bills far exceed Mr. Bush's proposed $2.3 billion increase.
Vol. 21, Issue 10, Page 40