If I start writing about Title I funding and formula weights under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, I'm guessing that nobody looking at this blog would read further. But bear with me. In laymen's terms, I'm talking about poor kids in rural areas and a diverse group of members of Congress who are trying to make it easier to get federal education money to them.
Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., last week introduced legislation to correct what they see as a " a gross inequity in the way grant formulas are calculated" for school districts with disadvantaged children. The current formula is a complex system that combines the sheer numbers of economically disadvantaged students in a specific area with the percentage of disadvantaged students. The math winds up favoring more heavily populated regions over the smaller student populations, even if students in the sparser regions have a high poverty rate. A more thorough explanation of the problem is here.
The legislation provides mechanism for transitioning to a different formula. It also has bipartisan support. Its only problem is that there is no more federal education money to be distributed, so someone is going to lose out if it gets enacted.
Thompson could offer the legislation as an amendment to the No Child Left Behind reauthorization that could be on the floor as early as this week. (The House has fallen behind on its schedule for floor debates, which could delay the debate until later in the month.) When the debate finally starts, the proposed new Title I formula might attract opponents who lose out on the deal, which could complicate the politics. But at the very least, the potential for a floor vote gives Slaughter and Thompson the opportunity to educate their colleagues on the inner workings of Title I.
Are Thompson and Slaughter right that the current weighting formula under Title I is grossly flawed? Can it be fixed without hurting other kids? Is this the biggest problem for rural schools? What else should policymakers be considering? How severe is the current formula's impact on rural areas? What about urban areas? When it comes to rural and urban districts, are the barriers to educating disadvantaged students fundamentally the same? Or are there significant differences?