Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the largest elementary and secondary education program administered by the U.S. Department of Education—distributes federal funds to school districts to enhance educational opportunities for children living in concentrated poverty. Yet the four formulas driving these allocations, which amounted to $14.5 billion for the fiscal year ending in 2009, are out of sync with the program’s goal.
The following aspects of the formulas create bizarre and unfair funding patterns:
- All four formulas favor wealthy states by using state average per pupil expenditures to account for variation in the cost of providing education. But expenditures mirror state wealth better than they track the cost of providing education.
- Three of the four formulas pay no attention to fiscal effort, or states’ willingness to devote state and local revenue to education.
- State-minimum provisions guarantee inordinately large allocations to states with very small populations.
- A weighting scheme built into the formulas heavily favors large districts—even those with low poverty rates.
These state comparisons exemplify funding puzzles created by the formulas driving Title I, Part A grants:
- California and Maryland both face very high costs and exert low fiscal effort, yet California received $1,566 per poor child to Maryland’s $2,067.
- Georgia and Pennsylvania both face high costs and exert high fiscal effort, yet Georgia received $1,402 per poor child to Pennsylvania’s $1,889.
- Idaho and North Dakota both face very low costs and exert low fiscal effort, yet Idaho received $1,180 per poor child to North Dakota’s $2,761.
Per poor child allocation*
Average per pupil expenditure**
Cost of providing education***
More information on reforming Title I formulas can be found in:
Data definitions and sources:
* State Title I, Part A allocations per poor child are based on a sample of 13,853 school districts representing roughly 99 percent of all districts. The data come from two sources. First, allocations for FY2008 were provided by the Budget Office, U.S. Department of Education. Second, the number of poor children comes from the Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (2007), Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Commerce.
** State average per pupil expenditures are obtained by dividing the difference between total current expenditures and federal revenues by average daily enrollment. These data come from Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data (2006), Census Bureau.
*** As school district expenditures are driven primarily by salaries for teachers and other staff, the Comparable Wage Index (2005), National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, provides a measure of the cost of providing education (by district and state). Since index values are somewhat meaningless in isolation, average teacher salaries (2006-07) are displayed. These salaries come from the American Federation of Teachers annual survey of compensation.
Note: Based on a limitation of the AFT survey, the average salary value for Massachusetts was used here for the District of Columbia since the District does not appear in the state list.
**** Fiscal effort can be measured many ways. The approach used here is a refinement over the one used by one of the Title I formulas. Fiscal effort is defined as the ratio of the three-year average of per pupil expenditures divided by the three-year average of total personal income, relative to the national average ratio. The income data (2004-2006) come from Personal Income and Outlays, Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. Expenditure data (2004-2006), as above, come from the Census Bureau’s Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data.
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Associate Director, Education Policy