States Hard-Pressed to Set Aside Title I Aid for NCLB Help, Group Says

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A majority of states won’t be able to put aside enough federal Title I funding to help schools struggling to meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act in the 2007-08 school year, according to a report released today by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.

The 5½-year-old federal law requires states to reserve 4 percent of their Title I aid for grants to districts to help schools that continually fail to meet the law’s achievement targets. But the NCLB law also includes a “hold harmless” requirement for districts, meaning that no district may receive less Title I money than it did the previous year because of the set-aside.

Since Title I funding has been relatively flat for three years, 29 states will be unable to reserve the full 4 percent during the 2007-08 school year, the report says. Three states—Florida, Hawaii, and West Virginia—won’t be able to set aside any Title I money for such “school improvement” under the federal law.

Congress appropriated $12.8 billion in fiscal 2007 for Title I grants to districts, which help schools cover the cost of educating students from low-income families. That’s an increase of less than 1 percent, or $124 million, over last year’s allocation. But federal lawmakers also approved $125 million specifically for Title I school improvement activities, which the CEP report says will “help somewhat because this funding stream is separate from the 4 percent set-aside.”

The report recommends that Congress continue to allocate money for Title I school improvement as a separate item in the federal budget, and significantly boost funding for the program.

Congress appears poised to do just that. The House last month approved a spending bill that would provide $500 million targeted to school improvement in fiscal 2008, which begins Oct. 1. That would be a 300 percent increase over fiscal 2007 levels. In June, the Senate Appropriations Committee also approved $500 million for the program. President Bush proposed a similar increase for Title I school improvement in his 2008 budget.

“If we really want school districts to be able to adequately address school improvement needs, we’re going to have make sure there’s enough money so that they don’t run out in the middle of the job,” said Edward R. Kealy, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a Washington-based lobbying organization.

Boosts for Some States

The CEP also reports that Title I funding for some states and districts has varied significantly from year to year because of annual updating of U.S. Census Bureau estimates of the number of children living in poverty. Formulas used by the U.S. Department of Education to allocate Title I grants to school districts are based on each state’s relative share of children from low-income families, the report says.

Because some states’ relative shares of the total number of low-income children have changed considerably, some will get substantial boosts in Title I aid for the new school year, while others will lose funding, according to the report. For example, Hawaii will lose about $6.3 million in Title I grants to districts from the 2006-07 school year to 2007-08, a 13.8 percent decrease, while Wisconsin will gain about $47 million, a 30.4 percent increase.

To help alleviate some of the uncertainty resulting from those fluctuations, the CEP recommends that the Education Department and the Census Bureau examine the accuracy of the estimates of children living in poverty. The center also suggests that “consideration be given to other options, such as using the average of the two most recent Census estimates to calculate [district] grants.”

Vol. 27

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