Dylan Scott is a GOVERNING staff writer.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
More than 40 percent of Title I schools, which receive federal money, spend less state and local money on their staffs than their counterparts in the same school district and at the same grade level, according to data released by the U.S. Education Department Wednesday, leading Education Secretary Arne Duncan to conclude those schools weren't receiving their "fair share" of those state and local funds.
Title I schools are identified by the portion of their populations that comes from low-income families. Under federal law, school districts are required to maintain a "comparability of service" from state and local money for Title I schools, which allows the federal money to supplement that already existing funding. The data for the study was collected from more than 13,000 school districts across the country from the 2008-2009 school year, provided as required by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and then analyzed by the department.
The department's study found that between 42 and 46 percent of Title I schools, depending on grade level, spent less per pupil on teachers and other personnel than did non-Title I schools in the same district at the same grade level on average. Between 19 and 24 percent of Title I schools, depending on grade level, spent more than 10 percent below the average of their district peers.
The trend is problematic, Duncan said in a conference call with reporters, because the Title I funding is intended to allow those schools to improve. Instead the money is "filling budget gaps rather than being used to close achievement gaps," Duncan said. He blamed a loophole that exists in the current reporting system for comparability of service, which doesn't require districts to include school-level expenditures when producing their report.
"Resources themselves never equate to achievement, but when you have disadvantaged children, you want to make sure that they have a chance to get a great education," Duncan said. "It takes more resources, not less, to do that."
National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel praised the department for raising the issue and urged policymakers to take action.
"As we begin to study the spending differences, we call upon school leaders and policy makers to do what they can to ensure that all students have access to the personnel, tools and resources they need to secure a high-quality education," Van Roekel said in a statement. "By examining this data we can begin to close comparability loopholes and address the grave disparities that plague too many schools and districts across the country."
President Barack Obama's Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) included a revision of the comparability provision, which would require school districts to distribute state and local funding equitably between Title I and non-Title I schools, according to a department press release. Similar language has been included in the ESEA reauthorization bill that was recently approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.
Reginald Felton, assistant executive director for congressional relations at the National School Boards Association, told Governing that the focus should be on how effective the money that is being spent has been, rather than on pure dollar amounts. He reasoned that Title I schools could be employing better teachers who are paid less because of existing collective bargaining contracts that favor seniority. He also warned of the potential costs if districts were required to assess and then overhaul their use of Title I money.
The department contended in its release that fixing districts' comparability standards would be relatively inexpensive, projecting that it would cost between 1 and 4 percent on average of the total school-level spending for the estimated 28 percent of Title I districts that would be out of compliance if the proposed reforms were implemented. The department estimated that the low-spending Title I schools would then see a 4 percent to 15 percent increase in their personnel expeditures.
A copy of the Education Department's report is included below.