Has NCLB improved the targeting of money toward low-income students? I went round and round and round on that question with John See, Kevin Carey, and Michael Dannenberg back in December 2007. All of it was based on the reporting for this story.
I think the answer we came up could be summarized by saying: Yes, but not by much.
This week, the Department of Education released a report reinforcing that conclusion. In “State and Local Implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act: Volume VI—Targeting and Uses of Federal Education Funds,” the American Institutes for Research reports that districts serving about half of the nation’s poor children (and 25 percent of the total student population) received 38 percent the money from all federal funds.
From Title I (by far the largest program in NCLB), those districts saw a slight increase in their share from the program; they received 50 percent of the money in the 1997-98 school year and 52 percent in the 2004-05 school year. At the school level, the amount of Title I funding per poor student in high-poverty schools remained the same from 1997-98 to 2004-05. The 51 percent increase in funding over that period “basically kept pace with the growth in the number of low-income students served in these schools,” the report says.
The report also includes a hint at the real solution: using federal dollars to change the way states and local governments finance their districts. High-poverty districts (which serve 25 percent of the nation’s students) received 21 percent of state and local funds in the 2004-05 school year. The federal funds, even if their targeting increases significantly, will never make up that difference. If federal policy could emphasize incentives for states and locals to change the way they distribute funds, then high-poverty schools will get a significant increase in funding. Under NCLB, it’s done so through Title I’s Education Finance Incentive Grants. But so far, that hasn’t made a huge difference.
A version of this news article first appeared in the NCLB: Act II blog.