By Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg
Since 1965, American taxpayers have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on federal programs designed to improve educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, with little evidence of improvement on long-term measures of academic achievement. As Congress considers reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, parents and taxpayers should look at these programs and ask whether their tax dollars are being spent wisely.
One program that deserves special scrutiny is Title I. Funded at nearly $13 billion for 2007, Title I is the centerpiece of federal education policy and No Child Left Behind. It was created in 1965 to provide educational opportunities and resources for disadvantaged children.
In a new Heritage Foundation report, Dr. Susan Aud of Johns Hopkins University examines Title I to see if it is actually accomplishing that purpose. What she found: It isn't.
After years of federal policymaking, Title I's funding formula is complex and obscure. "It's likely that no more than a handful of experts in the country clearly understand the [Title I funding distribution] process from beginning to end or could project a particular district's allocation based on information about its low-income students," explains Aud. The funding system is "opaque and unaccountable."
This complexity has resulted in a system that appears to contradict the goal of providing resources to disadvantaged students. "At a minimum," writes Aud, "a state's Title I allocation should have some relationship to the number of students living below poverty in the state," but states receive vastly different amounts of money per low-income child. Some of the most populated states receive $1,200 per eligible child, while less populated states, such as Vermont and Wyoming, receive over $3,000 -250 percent more per pupil.
Some say this is because Title I has been reformed over the years to target more money to areas with higher concentrations of poverty, but Aud shows that Title I reforms have not accomplished this goal either. For example, New Hampshire, with one of the lowest rates of poverty - 5.2 percent - receives one of the highest per pupil allocations: $2,294. Meanwhile, Arkansas, with one of the highest rates of poverty - 22 percent, over four times New Hampshire's rate - receives just $1,185 per student.
To address these and other problems, Aud offers three basic solutions for reforming Title I to achieve greater transparency and a more student centered approach.
First, if Congress wants to provide compensatory education resources to disadvantaged children, it should simplify the Title I funding formula. Aud recommends that the formula be streamlined from four separate grant programs today into "a single, simple formula that provides funds based on the number of low-income students in each state."
Second, Congress should reform Title I to "use a clear, student-centered calculation to set a per-pupil allocation amount." For example, the grant provided to each state could be based on a uniform, per-student allocation-such as approximately $1,000 per student or 10 percent of the national per-pupil expenditure-while adjusting for cost-of-living differences between states.
Third, states should be given the flexibility to make Title I funding portable. States should be allowed to fund students, rather than school systems, by allocating funds based on a students' decision to enroll in a school of choice.
American taxpayers and the children supposedly served by Title I deserve better than today's law. If Members of Congress hope to improve education policy during NCLB reauthorization, they need to study up on the biggest problems with today's law. Dr. Aud's report should be required reading.
Dan Lips is Education Analyst and Evan Feinberg is Domestic Policy Research Assistant at the Heritage Foundation.