Title I was created "to ensure all children a fair and equal opportunity to obtain a high-quality education." However, the formula for distributing Title I funds is stacked against the very children it was most intended to help. The current formula (a complex combination of four formulas) favors large districts regardless of their child poverty rate while children trapped in areas of concentrated poverty in mid-sized cities and rural districts are seriously disadvantaged. The inequities between and within states are blatant and must be rectified in this reauthorization cycle.
Why should Mississippi, the state with the highest concentration of Title I eligible students (27.2%) and the highest concentration of child poverty (30.4%), get an average allocation of $1,318 for each Title I eligible student while Wyoming, with the lowest percent of Title I eligible students (11.6%) and a three times lower child poverty rate (11.6%), receives an average of $3,149 per Title I eligible student—a $1,831 difference per child?
And why should Virginia's Buchanan County Public School District, with over 30% Title I eligible students and a 28% child poverty rate, receive $1,363 per eligible student while Virginia's Henrico County Public Schools, with 9% Title I eligible students and a 10% child poverty rate, receive $1,943—almost $600 more per eligible student?
This is simply wrong and widens the opportunity gap between rich and poor districts and rich and poor children Title I was intended to help close. This resource inequity denies children in areas of concentrated poverty a way out and fuels the cradle-to-prison pipeline which is creating a new American apartheid. A revised and more just allocation must ensure ALL children an equal opportunity to learn and succeed. Injustice to any child or group of children for a single day is morally indefensible, and the five years of this reauthorization period is a very long time in the life of a child. The Children's Defense Fund (CDF) believes that the most effective way to fix these inequities is to reform the formula but recognizes that a complete formula change this year may not be possible. In any case, immediate steps can and must be taken now to ensure many poor children a more level playing field including:
- Supporting early learning by incorporating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Early Learning Challenge provisions for children 0-5; including 0-5 children in any formula determining funding allocations to high poverty districts; and requiring a percentage of these funds to be directed to support quality programs for young children.
- Providing additional new competitively awarded monies to those districts and students most in need (as a partial way of dealing with the funding inequities) by including "poverty concentration" among the selection criteria; giving incentives to public-private partnerships in those areas; and ensuring these districts the technical support essential to success.
- Providing effective educational support and stability for children in juvenile justice facilities and foster care under Title I-D to reduce recidivism and help children escape the prison pipeline. The Department of Education must require that children and teens in juvenile facilities receive a high quality education, coordinated with the public school curriculum, and that schools facilitate their successful transition back to regular classrooms. Children in foster care also need stability and equal access to educational opportunity. The 2008 Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act requires state and local child welfare agencies to collaborate with education agencies to promote educational stability for foster children. Reciprocal requirements on education agencies are now needed in ESEA.
- Ending zero tolerance school discipline policies and out-of-school suspensions which disproportionately affect minority children. While school safety is not negotiable, one size fits all zero tolerance policies contribute mightily to school drop outs and the cradle to prison pipeline. Current school discipline policies too often are based on the serious misbehavior of 5-10% of students. While violent and seriously unruly students must be separated from the rest of the class, they need appropriate counseling and ways to keep up with coursework in a supervised, supportive learning environment until they are ready to rejoin their peers. The Department of Education must promote positive, consistent, and fair discipline measures that keep students in school and learning. It must also focus more on preventing and re-enrolling school dropouts building on proven strategies.
In 1969, CDF's parent organization, the Washington Research Project, issued its first report: Title I: Is it Helping Poor Children? The answer then was "no." Unless major changes are made to Title I's funding inequities and more attention is paid to those most vulnerable poor and minority children who are at risk of dropping out and going to prison, the answer will still be "no" for millions of children.
It is time for the federal government to be an instrument of equality rather than inequality. CDF stands ready to do everything we can to help achieve this doable and long overdue goal.