New Title I Law Will Bring Shift In Funding to Schools This Fall
The new Title I law takes effect July 1, and thousands of schools will begin feeling the effects of the changes in the massive federal compensatory-education program this fall.
Baltimore's Moravia Park Elementary School, for example, will lose three teachers and three paraprofessionals along with nearly a fourth of its $1.4 million budget. In contrast, eight middle schools in the city will receive Title I money for the first time.
In San Francisco, an estimated 28 public schools will have their funding cut, while more than a dozen will see an increase. More than 1,000 students in the city's Roman Catholic schools will be cut off from remedial services.
While educators are still struggling to interpret legislative provisions in the $7.2 billion program that have interdependent and sometimes countervailing effects, it is clear that their impact will be significant.
The most dramatic changes will occur not between districts but within them--especially in large urban school systems.
In general the changes will funnel "more dollars into high-poverty schools," said Mary Jean LeTendre, the director of compensatory-education programs for the Education Department. As a result, some schools that have received money in the past will be dropped from participation.
The rules governing eligibility of private school students for Title I have also changed. In some districts, fewer of them will qualify.
If the Education Department stands by a directive issued this month, however, districts that lack poverty data on private school students may find themselves serving more of them under Title I. That could potentially reduce aid for public school students in those districts.
In addition, the department's handling of a legislative error will result in the distribution of about $30 million through the regular Title I formula, rather than a separate formula for concentration grants that benefit high-poverty districts.
"The effect of these seemingly independent decisions will be to deny Title I services to thousands of poor, inner-city public school children," officials of the Council of the Great City Schools said last week in a letter to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.
Shift in Focus
Congress reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act last year and changed the name of its largest program from Chapter 1 back to Title I. Many of the changes that emerged were designed to tie the program to the educational-standards movement and to focus it on whole-school improvement. (See Education Week, 10/12/94.)
A central provision allows more schools to use their Title I funds on a schoolwide basis rather than only for the poorest students. Schools will also be allowed to combine money from multiple federal programs.
Those two changes alone, Ms. LeTendre said, "amount to the biggest reform effort in elementary and secondary education."
Janet Carroll, Rhode Island's coordinator of compensatory education and the president of the National Association of State Chapter 1 Coordinators, agreed.
"A lot is right about this reauthorization," Ms. Carroll said. "It's there for high-poverty schools and poor kids, and it's there for school reform."
But, for now, financial issues are foremost in the minds of school officials trying to plan for the fall. Preliminary estimates were issued in May, and final numbers will be available July 1. Yet some schools may not know for weeks or months exactly how much money they will get.
At the state level, major formula changes are to take effect next year, but the only change this year is a larger minimum grant for less populous states. That will boost the take of Alaska, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wyoming by several million dollars each.
Under the new rules for district allocations, a minimum requirement for counties of 10 eligible students now applies to districts. This will push some low-poverty districts out of the program.
Currently, more than 90 percent of districts nationwide receive Title I aid. Ms. Carroll predicted that this could drop to 80 percent.
The other district-level change was unintentional--the result of an error in the E.S.E.A. reauthorization. The earlier law had set concentration-grant levels at 10 percent of total Title I appropriations, but Congress had routinely allocated more than that.
Lawmakers sought last year to insure that at least as much would be distributed through the more targeted formula in later years as in 1994. But on a crucial line, "1994" accidentally became "1995," voiding the provision.
The Education Department's general counsel has ruled that the agency must use the old law and put 10 percent of the $6.8 billion available for Title I into concentration grants. That is about $30 million less than Congress intended.
"A combination of exhaustion and last-minute frenetics" will cost urban districts about $10.5 million this year, said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.
An Intradistrict Issue
Although lawmakers rejected proposals to shift funding more dramatically from low-poverty districts to high-poverty urban and rural areas, they sharpened the focus of Title I within districts.
In the past, schools qualified for funding based on their poverty levels and student achievement, with low-achieving students targeted for participation.
Now, districts must rank schools based solely on their percentages of poor students and distribute Title I funds accordingly--with the poorest schools receiving the most money per pupil. Several other rules that gave districts flexibility to serve lower-ranking schools were eliminated.
Although many districts can still choose to focus at least some aid on particular grade levels, all schools in which poor students make up at least 75 percent of the enrollment must receive aid, and at a minimum amount per pupil.
Because most school districts have focused Title I aid on elementary schools, in many cases these rules will shift funds from elementary schools to high-poverty secondary schools.
That is what happened in Baltimore. Middle schools there will gain money. But Moravia Park Elementary's principal, Mary Tridone, will lose six staff members and try to make do with a half-time assistant principal so she can retain a family liaison and a consulting teacher who had been paid under Title I.
"The difference is astronomical," she said. "We used to fund a lot of cultural enrichment through [Title I]. We'll have to be creative."
In Minneapolis, 14 elementary schools will lose all their Title I aid, while six middle schools and two high schools gain funding.
Ms. LeTendre said about 30 districts have requested waivers allowing them to shift their funding gradually. One of them is Chicago, which currently provides Title I aid to 389 of its 554 schools, as well as 360 private schools.
When the district's Title I coordinator, Lula Ford, realized that more than 100 schools stood to lose as much as $300,000 apiece, she decided that would be devastating."I believe that the poorest schools should get the money," she said, "but we need to give schools a little time to adjust."
In districts that already provide Title I funds to secondary schools, the shifts will be more complex, determined by poverty data and how such funds were used in the past.
"In the past, if you were a high-achieving, high-poverty school, you got very little money," said Anne Wolf, a policy specialist who works on the Title I program in New York City, explaining the impact on her district. "Now you will get considerably more money."
While many districts must shift funding to secondary schools, middle schools may benefit more than high schools.
In some areas, high schools will lose aid because of the shift from achievement- to poverty-based criteria. Most districts measure poverty based on the number of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, and older students are far less likely than younger ones to participate in the federal nutrition program.
Private School Problems
None of Baltimore's high schools qualified for funding, although its middle schools did, said Samuel L. Banks, the executive director of the district's department of compensatory education and funded programs. He said the district would try to take advantage in later years of a "feeder pattern" option that allows secondary schools to qualify if their students are graduates of high-poverty elementary schools.
The use of school-lunch data is also an issue for private schools, most of which do not participate in that federal program.
In the past, low-achieving private school students qualified for Title I services if they lived in the attendance area of a participating public school.
But now, districts must determine the eligibility of a public school based on the poverty level of all the children in that school's attendance area, including those who attend private schools. Only private school students who are poor enough to be counted for this purpose--and who are also low-achieving and live in an attendance area ultimately selected for Title I services--are eligible.
As a result, private schools were forced this year to collect data on their students' family incomes, something many educators--and parents--viewed as an invasion of privacy. Even if parents cooperate, basing eligibility primarily on poverty rather than achievement may reduce private school participation in Title I, because families who can pay tuition are generally better off financially.
In San Francisco, for example, the number of Catholic-school students participating in the program will drop from 2,179 this year to an estimated 1,171 next year, said Lois Bauer, an assistant school superintendent for the local archdiocese.
One new provision could prove detrimental for public school students in districts that are unable to collect adequate information on private school students. The Education Department this month ordered such districts to assume that the poverty rate among private school students is the same as that for public school students in the same attendance area.
"There is no basis for the idea that the rates are similar, and all the data we do have indicates that poverty rates in public schools are almost always much higher," said Mr. Casserly of the Great City Schools. Overestimating the number of poor private school students, he said, could cost public schools in some districts millions of dollars.
Ms. LeTendre said that relatively few districts have failed to collect adequate information on their private school students, and New York appears to be the only large city in this position. She also noted that a variety of survey methods are acceptable.
Federal officials are working to negotiate solutions acceptable to them and to public and private school officials in affected areas.
An Urban Affair
In general, even the more universal funding changes will substantially alter Title I funding only in urban districts and large suburban districts that have substantial numbers of poor students.
About 45 percent of Title I districts--those with fewer than 1,000 students or only one school per grade level--are largely exempt from the targeting rules. And while middle-sized districts may have to shift some funds, they are unlikely to face the problems of the big-city districts.
For example, in Frederick County, Md., a diverse district that encompasses a small city, rural areas, and outlying suburbs of Washington, the average poverty rate is 14 percent. The district will run Title I programs next year in eight elementary schools, where the poverty rate ranges from 20 percent to 39 percent.
The district's Title I coordinator, Shari Ostrow Scher, said she decided to drop one school that received funding this year to concentrate more money on the others. She said she is excited about the new rules' emphasis on "school-based empowerment."
Ms. Scher acknowledged that her district's favorable demographics allow it to help most of its needy children. She knows things are different 30 miles eastward, where Mary Tridone's school--with a poverty rate of 46 percent--could not make Baltimore's cut. The city's average is about 58 percent.
Some urban educators note such comparisons with bitterness.
"What we're doing here is educational triage," said Baltimore's Mr. Banks. "'Who do you want to save?' is the question we have to ask."
Vol. 14, Issue 39