Hurting Poor Students
Published: July 19, 2011 NYTimes
Extremists in Congress have long wanted to gut the spending restrictions in Title I, a federal law dating back to the 1960s that underwrites extra help for disadvantaged schoolchildren. A bill, approved by a House committee last week, would do just that, damaging one of most important civil rights programs in the country.
The State and Local Funding Flexibility Act would let school districts spend money earmarked for impoverished children on almost any educational purpose they chose. This would inevitably lead to money going from politically powerless poor schools to those without the same needs.
Title I was created during the Johnson administration in response to the failure of the states to offer access to equal education for all students as required by Brown v. Board of Education. The education law is based on a strict formula that drives federal aid to high-poverty districts, where large numbers of disadvantaged children often pose educational challenges. It is supposed to provide an added layer of federal money to high-poverty schools that already have budget allocations similar to those of other schools in the same district.
But because the districts kept gaming the system, moving the money from the Title I schools to more politically influential schools, Congress required more close accounting of how the money is spent.
Still, the districts that receive the money (about $14 billion this year) have enormous spending flexibility. For example, they can hire teachers, nurses or mental health workers or finance a longer school day. But ideologues in Congress believe the federal government should not be in the business of ensuring that the most vulnerable children are served. The bill would allow local officials to take money from schools that need it most. That’s a terrible idea. Sensible members of Congress should resist it.