Ed. Dept. Issues Rules on Using Title I Funds To Improve Schools

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The Department of Education has issued guidance to help districts use $134 million in new Title I funds designated for turning around failing schools.

Read the transcript of President Clinton's February 26 radio address on the subject of school improvement.

Districts should use both public school choice and innovative practices to help improve their low-performing schools that receive Title I aid, according to the document, which was released late last month. Under a Title I provision adopted last November, districts that have two or more such schools within their boundaries must allow the students attending them the option of transferring to other public schools.

The $134 million set aside for the initiative was appropriated in the fiscal 2000 budget. President Clinton has requested another $250 million for it in his proposed fiscal 2001 budget, out of a proposed $8.36 billion total for Title I, the main federal program for disadvantaged schoolchildren.

"Ultimately, of course, it’s up to states and local communities to take the reins and turn around a failing school, but the federal government must play a key role by granting more flexibility, demanding more accountability, and investing more in education," Mr. Clinton said Feb. 26 in his weekly radio address. "With today’s action, we’re declaring as a nation that we will not fail our children by tolerating failing schools."

States determine which schools should be designated as low-performing, based on the state’s own standards. The Education Department estimates that nearly 8,000 schools across the country were deemed failing under Title I provisions in the 1997-98 school year. According to the guidance:

  • Districts must annually review the progress of Title I schools toward meeting state standards and identify those schools that have not made progress for two years.
  • A school deemed to have made inadequate progress must write a school improvement plan, which must be approved by the district, and devote 10 percent of its Title I allocation to professional development for faculty members.
  • Districts must provide technical assistance and other measures to help the failing schools carry out their plans, and districts may take further corrective actions.
  • Districts must take corrective action to improve schools that have failed to make adequate progress after three years.

Corrective action could include implementing a new research-based curriculum, requiring professional-development activities, taking away the school’s decisionmaking power and restaffing the school, or implementing a comprehensive reform model.

Problems Ahead?

Bruce Hunter, the chief lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, said the implementation of the new regulations was likely to be controversial among school officials, in part because the money will go to the states, not to the districts themselves.

"We all wish there had been a formula to distribute money to locals," he said.

In addition, he said, officials are likely to have problems with the school choice provisions.

According to the guidelines, districts must offer public school choice to as many students as possible, and they must decide, on an "equitable basis," which students can transfer. Either the lowest-achieving students or those who have been in the failing schools the longest should be given priority, the guidance says, suggesting a lottery system could be the best way of making the final selections.

"No matter how you do it, you’re leaving yourself open to litigation," Mr. Hunter predicted, "because somebody gets excluded."

States must submit their plans on how they would use the federal funds to the Education Department no later than May 1 to receive the money, which will be distributed July 1.

Copies of the guidance document have been mailed to state Title I coordinators and the chief state school officers. "Guidance on Turning Around Low-Performing Schools," is available online (requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader) or it can be ordered by calling (202) 260-0826.

Vol. 19, Issue 26, Page 32

Published in Print: March 8, 2000, as Ed. Dept. Issues Rules on Using Title I Funds To Improve Schools
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