Panel Votes To Boost Title I Aid to 32 States

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A Senate committee voted last week to bolster Title I grants for states that would lose out because of a federal decision to distribute the program's money based on new population estimates.

The Appropriations Committee approved carving out $198 million for the 32 states that would receive less Title I money in the 1997-98 school year than they would have seen if the Department of Education had not moved to allocate the remedial education program's $7.1 billion using new child-poverty counts.

"The money will allow all states to get the best increase they had coming under the old formula or the new formula," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who is not a member of the Appropriations Committee but lobbied its members to add the money to an $8 billion spending bill that includes no other education money.

If the House subsequently approves the measure, most of the new money would go to Southern and Midwestern states that would be hurt by the decision of the departments of Commerce and Education to base next year's grants on an average of 1990 and 1994 child-poverty data. ("60% of Counties To Receive Less in Title I Grants," April 30, 1997.)

For example, Louisiana would receive $20 million more than it was scheduled to see under state-by-state grants the Education Department announced late last month. Illinois' grant would jump $15 million, Mississippi's and Alabama's would rise $13 million each, and money for Texas and Ohio would increase by $10 million if Congress approves and President Clinton signs the spending bill.

Puerto Rico would get an extra $34 million, and the District of Columbia would win a $2 million bonus, according to a breakdown provided by the Senate Appropriations Committee staff.

Some counties due to lose money because of the federal decision would not benefit from the Senate action, however. That's because they're in states that would gain from the use of updated data, and the panel added money only to states slated to lose funding overall. About 2,000 of the nation's 3,150 counties are expected to lose funding under the formula change.

For example, California's funding is due to rise 14 percent statewide over last year because of the updated data. Los Angeles alone is to receive a $58 million boost, more than half the state's net $101 million increase.

Meanwhile, Alameda County, which includes Oakland, is slated to lose $1.1 million, and San Francisco faces a $818,900 drop in Title I funding under the Education Department's preliminary allocations released in late April.

Since the spending bill contains no extra money for California, Alameda County, San Francisco, and other losing jurisdictions would not benefit from the committee's action. Similar scenarios may play out for counties in the other 17 states that would not get money under the Senate plan.

The spending proposal won broad support April 30 when Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced it in the Appropriations Committee. The panel voted to amend a bill, which would pay for disaster relief in the Midwest and the U.S. peacekeeping force in Bosnia, to include the Title I funding.

The House had passed a similar bill minus the education funding. If the full Senate passes the amended measure, a House-Senate conference committee would work out differences between the bills. Senate appropriators--half of them Republicans--from Arkansas, Kentucky, Montana, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin signed on as co-sponsors of the plan. Their states would receive a portion of the extra money.

The senators' vote of confidence shows that it's good politics to add money when a majority of states will benefit. But some question whether adding the money is good policy.

In 1994, Congress created the option of using an updated population estimate to avoid a major shift in state Title I allocations at the beginning of every decade, when the Bureau of the Census conducts its national head count.

Protecting states from losses now only delays an inevitable shift in funding when new child-poverty data are used to calculate grants, said one congressional aide, who asked not to be named.

Department of Education officials said they may rely exclusively on 1994 estimates in the future if statistical experts deem the data reliable.

But policy may not be prominent when the full Senate considers the measure and--if the Title I money clears that hurdle--when a conference committee discusses the bill. The focus may be on completing the bill quickly so disaster victims can get financial relief and the country can honor its military commitments, the congressional aide said.

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