With Congress attempting to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) this year, the allocation of Title I funding is being reexamined. Both the House and Senate have offered an answer in Title I portability. Portability allows the transfer of funds from one school to another. In other words, funding through Title I would follow poor students, instead of poor schools. This shift in the allocation of funding will create a more transparent system for teachers, parents and administrators, allow for more school choice and stabilize funding throughout the K-12 education system.
Title I aims to provide all students with an equitable education by providing financial assistance to areas with poverty. Currently, Title I funding goes through a long top-down process, which starts at the federal level, then to state education agencies, down to the school districts and finally to schools. Title 1 does not fund the low-income student directly.
Allowing Title I to go directly to the student will empower school principals and teachers to be more in charge of their own funding. A large portion of Title I funding for the students gets absorbed into administrative cost. In fiscal year 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were approximately 8.4 million children eligible for Title I, Part A. As the total allocation for that year was nearly $13 billion, the average amount per eligible child would have been about $1,500. However, in Florida, for example, the average amount of Title I, Part A funds allocated to the school level was a mere $554 per student!
Currently, Title I at the local level uses the percentage of low-income students per school as the determining factor for which schools receive Title I funding first. However, school population tends to increase from elementary to high school. Therefore, even if the enrollment of low-income students is the same between a student’s past elementary and current high school, the high school will not receive as much Title I funding per low-income student as the elementary school because of the skewed percentage.
By the current distribution of funding, as a low-income child goes through K-12 education, the amount of money per year will decrease. Seventy-six percent of Title I funding is allocated to elementary schools. Only ten percent of Title I funding goes to high schools. Title I portability will give low-income students throughout all their years of education access to funding because it allows the money to follow the student throughout their education.
Title I portability will also assist in allowing students to choose their education through school choice. School choice’s defining principle is the belief that parents should be able to send children to a school that fits their child’s educational needs. By allowing the money to follow the low-income student, it gives students from all income level families the opportunity to explore other school choices. As concluded by multiple research studies, school choice and supporting financial aid programs allow disadvantaged students a better chance to receive a high-quality K-12 education.
The Senate proposes a Scholarship for Kids Act which utilizes student portability. Each low-income student would be allotted $2,100 per school year at any accredited public or private school under this act. One in every five students could qualify for this scholarship. Thus, at least one in every five students would be able to utilize school choice.
As ESEA is in the process of reauthorization, it is extremely important to ensure every student receives the opportunity and access to a quality education. Title I has the history of attempting to bridge the economic gap in education. The formula behind Title I funding needs revamping to effectively aid every student throughout his or her education.