In Tipton County, Tenn., the school district is looking for ways to slash its budget. Though the schools there have more poor students than ever, in the coming school year, the district will lose 22 percent of the federal money used to help get those children up to speed academically.
For the 2005-06 school year, the 11,200-student school system has cut five of 29 Title I teachers and five teachers’ aides, on top of more severe layoffs in past years. District officials are trying to get creative by searching for grants to replace at least some of the dollars they’ve lost.
But like more than two-thirds of the school districts in the country that receive federal Title I funds to help disadvantaged students succeed, the Tipton County schools are struggling to serve those children with fewer federal dollars.
“Cutting your way to excellence is extremely difficult to do,” said Tim Fite, the director of schools for the county, located north of Memphis and bordered on the west by the Mississippi River. “The children are the ones who are losing.”
While many districts are seeing less Title I aid in the 2005-06 school year, others—particularly larger urban districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students—are getting a bump up, according to a study released last month by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.
But overall, Title I dollars are being spread much thinner throughout the nation, said Jack Jennings, the president of the research and policy center. Tipton County is losing about $276,000 of its Title I funds; its 22 percent cut ranks it No. 2 among districts with the highest percentage of Title I losses.
The cuts come just as districts are grappling with the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which calls for schools and districts to meet annual achievement goals or face penalties. The 3½-year-old law, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provides for the continuation of Title I as the main federal vehicle for improving the achievement of disadvantaged children.
While the NCLB law tries to target the bulk of Title I funding to districts with the highest concentration of disadvantaged students, all schools must comply with the act’s requirements, noted Mr. Jennings, a former top Democratic House aide on education. “The law concentrates more money on big cities and poorer school districts—a laudable goal,” he said, “but the scope of the law has been expanded to call for raising student achievement in all school districts. Those two goals conflict.”
The Center on Education Policy analyzed data for Title I—K-12’s largest federal program—for the upcoming school year. It found that 8,843 districts will get fewer Title I dollars than last year to serve low-achieving students in poor areas, but that 4,403 districts will receive more money.
The funds are allocated using complex methods based on several formulas, all of which use U.S. Census data to calculate where the money should go. To be eligible for much of the money, a district must have an enrollment that is made up at least 5 percent by poor children. The most up-to-date census data available are from 2002.
Although two-thirds of districts are losing federal Title I funds, those gaining educate two-thirds of the nation’s students, according to the report. That’s as it should be, said Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington research and advocacy group that supports the No Child Left Behind Act.
“The real story here is that increases in federal funds are well targeted to high-poverty districts, and most students are in districts that are seeing increases in Title I this year,” he said. “Federal funds are intended to help those school districts that serve the most students living in poverty.”
While aid formulas to better help those students were put into the ESEA in 1994, they were not financed significantly, Mr. Wiener said, until the advent of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The law is now “more sensitive to shifts in poverty levels than before,” he said.
Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, agreed. “The law is explicit that the funds follow the highest concentrations of poverty,” she said by e-mail last week.
A Question of Funding
While the Tipton County district in Tennessee has lost money, the Cherry Creek school system in Greenwood Village, Colo., will enjoy a 63 percent gain in Title I aid this coming school year, the third-highest percentage increase in the nation, according to the CEP report.
Cherry Creek’s Title I coordinator, Julie Sack, said the additional $1.1 million will enable the district to identify five more elementary schools to receive Title I funding and add remedial reading and mathematics programs to those schools. It also will permit the district to expand its remedial-math program to the eight existing Title I schools that previously were receiving only reading help.
The bump up that the 46,650-student, 58-school district is getting in Title I money stems from an influx of immigrants—primarily Hispanic, Arab, and Korean—to the area, Ms. Sack said. This year’s calculations nudge Cherry Creek over the 5 percent mark for students in poverty, she said.
Big-city districts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia are seeing significant Title I increases that measure in the millions of dollars.
The Fairfax County, Va., district is in a similar situation: It will receive $6.9 million more in Title I funding, for a total of $15.3 million, up from $9.1 million this past school year. But district budget director Mario J. Schiavo said he views the Title I increase as more of a “restoration.”
Last year, the 166,000-student district in the Washington suburbs came in just under the 5 percent level and lost much of its Title I funding. The most recent census numbers, used for this year’s calculations, brought the district over the 5 percent benchmark. “Essentially, the money is being put back,” Mr. Schiavo said.
For school systems that hover around having the minimum percentage of students in poverty to qualify for aid, the year-to-year fluctuations in Title I money make it difficult to carry out consistent remedial programs, Mr. Schiavo contended.
But Jeff Simering, the legislative director for the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington-based group that represents 65 of the country’s largest urban school districts, said the real problem isn’t the funding formula for Title I, it is that increases to the program have stalled. In recent years, increases to the program—funded at $12.7 billion for the 2005 fiscal year—have waned.
Though Bush administration officials have repeatedly pointed to increases in Title I funding, both the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee have passed budget bills that include only a minimal hike of $100 million for fiscal 2006. That increase, if enacted, would be the smallest in eight years.
A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2005 edition of Education Week as Title I Allocations Reveal Gains and Losses