ESSA Delivers Equity for (Some) Low-Income Students

Commentary

ESSA Delivers Equity for (Some) Low-Income Students

Although Title I funding accounts for nearly 40% of federal spending on elementary and secondary education, there is little evidence that is has made a substantive impact on outcomes for low-income students. As Reason’s Lisa Snell and Katie Furtick explain:

A meta-analysis of 17 federal studies examining the effectiveness of Title I indicated a modest overall impact of the program. A more recent empirical study published by the Institute for Educational and Social Policy (IESP), which analyzes spending and performance of Title I students in New York City, found that additional Title I spending does not improve the achievement of students and possibly even reduces school-wide average test scores in elementary and middle schools. Further, a study published by Harvard University reviewing evaluations of Title I concludes that Title I has not accomplished the original goals of the program-closing achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

This should come as no surprise to those familiar with how Title I funds are allocated. The funding apparatus lacks transparency, restricts innovation, and fails to provide equitable funding for those it intends to serve.

One notable shortcoming is how Title I funds are eventually allocated at the local level. Districts must rank and distribute funds based on the proportion of low-income students at each of their respective schools. Thus, low-income students who attend schools with relatively fewer low-income peers are arbitrarily shortchanged.

Unfortunately, some disadvantaged students are more treated as more deserving than others in this inequitable system of federal funding.

While the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act did not include a portability provision to overhaul Title I funding distribution and oversight, there is a silver lining: the bill includes a pilot program in which 50 districts will be permitted to combine federal, state, and local funding into a weighted-student formula.

If the pilot program is successful then any district will be eligible to apply beginning in the 2019-2020 school year. Read more here.

Aaron Garth Smith is an education policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.