Gross Disparity: Some Poor Pennsylvania Students Get Much More Title I Funding Than Others

Last Updated: May 05, 2009

This article appeared in the April 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
A recent analysis of Title I funding by the Rural Trust finds that two of the four formulas that are used to provide extra funding for poor students provide much more federal funding per eligible student to some districts than to others with similar or higher poverty rates.
The report, “Many Children Left Behind: How Title I Weighted Grant Formulas Favor the Few at the Expense of the Many in Pennsylvania,” explains how the Title I formulas work and demonstrates their effects on high poverty districts in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is typical of how changes to the formulas implemented with No Child Left Behind have re-directed Title I funding away from high poverty smaller districts to larger districts, some with lower poverty rates.
The two formulas, the Targeted grant and the Education Finance Incentive Grant (EFIG), use a weighting system that provides districts with additional funding based on either the percentage of poor students or the number of poor students, whichever is more beneficial to the district. Number weighting always benefits very large districts but not smaller ones.
Providing more funding to districts with high poverty makes sense. When all districts with the same poverty rate earn the same per pupil funding, it’s also fair. But number weighting, implemented in 2002, enables larger districts to gain a significant advantage in the formula that is not available to smaller districts.
The impact is substantial. More than $14 million was shifted last year from over 400 Pennsylvania districts to just nine large districts. These same formulas were used to distribute Title I “stimulus” funding to districts through the American Reinvestment Recovery Act. As a result, the 16 poorest districts in the state, all with more than 30% poverty as defined by the census, get wildly different amounts of stimulus money per eligible student, ranging from $605 in Midland Borough (31.7% poverty rate) to $2,213 in Philadelphia (33.6% poverty rate). The Farrell Area district with a poverty rate of 43.7%, the highest in the state, gets just $882 per eligible student.
In one of the more perverse aspects of the changes to the way Title I funding is distributed, districts that “gain” funding do so largely at the expense of other districts that “lose” funding. That’s because the formulas don’t generate more money, instead they simply redistribute the existing pot.
Not surprisingly, districts that benefit are larger. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia gains the most as a result of number weighting. It gets 48% more in the Targeted grant and 84% more in the EFIG than do other high poverty districts in the state.
In one of several analyses, “Many Children Left Behind” divides Pennsylvania districts that qualify for weighted grants into four groups based on poverty rate (excluding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). In each group of districts with similar poverty rates, larger districts receive more per eligible student than smaller districts. The higher the poverty level, the greater the disparity.
If all funding were distributed by percentage of students in poverty rather than by numbers, only ten Pennsylvania districts would get less funding. Seven of those have poverty rates below the state average of 14.9%. The number of students attending schools that would gain funding would be almost double the number attending schools that would lose funding.
The districts that would gain the most from the elimination of number weighting are high-poverty small cities like Reading, Harrisburg, and York. Philadelphia, however, would receive significantly less.
The story is similar across the country.
Number-weighting inequities are likely to grow worse because all increases in Title I funding since the weighted grant system was adopted have been distributed exclusively through the weighted grant formulas.
“Many Children Left Behind” provides an invaluable resource for explaining Title I funding disparities and a powerful tool for advocating for the elimination of an unjust formula provision that makes some students “worth” a lot less than others. You can read the full report at the Rural Trust website at
Would you like an analysis of the Title I funding disparities in your state? The Rural Trust can do customized reports for any state. To discuss study design and terms, contact Marty Strange, Rural Trust Policy Director, at

Read more from the April 2009 Rural Policy Matters.