Avoiding problems with federal bean counters was once the sole topic of discussion when Title I officials gathered each year to discuss the program meant to bolster the education of poor children.
The topic was so pervasive that the meeting of officials who administer the federal government’s largest precollegiate program was called “The Audit Conference.”
“It was the only focus,” Virginia R.L. Plunkett, Colorado’s Title I director and the president of the National Association of State Coordinators of Compensatory Education, recalled at the association’s annual meeting here last week.
But now, the get-together has a different spin and a new name. At the National Title I Conference, workshops on federal accounting reviews now share the stage with issues like parent involvement, research, schoolwide programs, and family literacy.
“Audits are still an important strand, but we don’t want it to stand out as the main issue,” Ms. Plunkett said.
The broader agenda has evolved over the past several years, gathering steam after Congress made major changes to the program in 1994.
Still, many of the 1,700 officials here wanted to know exactly what the U.S. Department of Education will be looking for when its accountants review their books.
Sessions run by accountants and lawyers from the department were so popular that organizers moved them to a larger room. (Workshops on schoolwide projects also were crowded enough to warrant extra space.)
Department officials promised to be as flexible as the law will allow in letting school districts spend their federal grants.
At least one local official, however, is still keeping scrupulous records.
“I’m always afraid somebody is going to come in and say: ‘Where is that paper?’ So I have it,” said Elise Ax, the assistant superintendent in charge of federal programs in Clark County, Nev. “Everything that we do, we document on an ongoing basis.”
School districts should focus Title I money on the students who need it the most--children who are migrant, homeless, or in jail, the program’s director said.
Schools are now allowed to use Title I dollars for children who fall in those categories without proving that they need remedial help. Under Chapter 1, the previous version of Title I, homeless, migrant, and delinquent students could not get help from the program without showing they were struggling in school.
“These children are automatically eligible no matter where they are in the area,” Mary Jean LeTendre, the director of federal compensatory education programs, said in a speech here. “I want you to take this seriously.”
At the closing luncheon, the organization recognized 69 Title I participants who have gone on to distinguished achievements.
“Title I has provided an opportunity for me that I otherwise would not have had,” said Sandra D. Sells, who is on track to graduate from law school in the fall.
Others recognized included the first woman tribal judge in the Isleta Pueblo tribe and the executive director of the Oregon Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
--DAVID J. HOFF