Title I Inequities in Plain Language

Last Updated: October 30, 2009

This article appeared in the October 2009 Rural Policy Matters.
Anthony Clark, a member of the North Carolina Rural Education Working Group, recently asked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a tough question during his Rural Tour stop in Richmond County, North Carolina. Why, Mr. Clark wanted to know, did the small, rural Richmond County School District with a 32% poverty rate receive only $1,209 per Title I student in 2008–09 while the Charlotte-Mecklenburg District, with only a 16% poverty rate, received $1,398 per Title I student. And why did Chicago, also with a poverty rate lower than Richmond County, receive $2,273 per Title I student that year? Mr. Clark might have added, why does Colchester, Vermont, a Burlington suburb with a meager 7% poverty rate, receive $2,546 for each Title I student?
Secretary Duncan didn't have the answer, except to say that he understood that there are inequities in the Title I formula for rural schools and that they should be addressed when the No Child Left Behind Act is reauthorized.
Well, here is a succinct explanation of the sources of these inequities.
Average Expenditures Statewide
First, Title I funding varies from state to state based on the average amount each state spends per pupil in its public schools. This is supposed to account for state-to-state differences in the cost of providing schooling. What it really accounts for is state-to-state differences in wealth and in political commitment to education. That disadvantages high poverty rural schools in states that don't spend much on education, schools like those in Richmond County, in states like North Carolina.
One-third of the students who attend the rural districts with the highest student poverty rates nationally are in the 12 lowest spending states. Among them is North Carolina, which spends $7,505 per pupil compared to Illinois, which spends $9,734.
That spending difference explains about half the difference between the amount per Title I pupil that Chicago receives and the amount the two North Carolina districts receive. Colchester, Vermont, is unaffected by the use of statewide average per pupil expenditures in the formula. It's a horse of an entirely different color and we'll explain it in a minute.
Number Weighting
The second cause of Title I inequities are provisions in the formula that artificially inflate the count of students eligible for Title I funding in some districts. The purpose is to provide greater levels of per pupil funding in districts with heavy concentrations of poverty by "weighting" the student count, that is, by counting Title I kids in these districts more than once. The higher the percentage of students in poverty or the larger the sheer number of students in poverty (whichever provides greater benefit to the district), the more each student counts. A single student can count as many as four times.
What this means is that the higher the number of Title I students enrolled in a district, the more Title I money that district receives. The effect — apparently unintended — is to favor larger districts whether they have high poverty rates or not, and to disfavor smaller districts even if they have very high poverty rates (see "Poorer Smaller Districts Lose Out in Stimulus," March 2009 RPM). Since the formula is used to calculate each district's share of a fixed pot of Title funding, any funding gain for one district comes at the expense of other districts.
How do our comparison districts fare under these weighting schemes? Richmond loses about $11 per Title I student while Charlotte-Mecklenburg gains over $122 per student, explaining most of the $189 difference in Title I funding between these two North Carolina districts. Chicago gains $134 for each of its 138,000 Title I students. Colchester neither gains nor loses due to weighting student count.
Small State Minimum
The third cause of Title I inequity is the special treatment certain state receive simply because they are small and have little poverty. The formula provides that no state will receive less than 0.3% of the total Title I appropriation, no matter how small its calculated share turns out to be. This "small state minimum" gives 12 small states with low levels of poverty a sufficient stake in the Title I program to support it — that's 24 votes in the U.S. Senate. And it results in some very large payments, measured on a per pupil basis. That's why Colchester, Vermont with that very low poverty rate, got $2,546 per Title I student. That gives Vermont a generous stake in the program — and no stake whatsoever is addressing the inequities Anthony Clark asked Secretary Duncan about.
Read more from the October 2009 Rural Policy Matters.