Examining the Impact of the All Children are Equal Act on District Title I Allocations

article | March 15, 2012

    Jennifer Cohen Kabaker

Late last month, Ed Money Watch wrote about the variation in Title I allocations in rural, urban, and suburban school districts. That analysis showed that rural school districts typically receive far less Title I funding per poor pupil than urban districts due to a variety of factors. This topic has been at the forefront of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind) reauthorization discussions as a broad base of constituents have banded together to encourage lawmakers to rewrite the Title I funding formulas. Our previous analysis unintentionally glossed over some  effects of the number weighting provision in the Title I formulas.

The Title I Targeted and Education Finance Inequity Grant formulas both include number weighting provisions that artificially inflate a district’s number of Title I eligible students to increase its share of funding. Districts with more Title I eligible students are weighted more than districts with fewer. Those weights are determined by brackets written into law. For example, districts with 691 or fewer Title I students (bracket 1) receive a weighting of 1 (meaning each Title I student counts as one student in the formulas), while districts with 35,515 or more Title I students (bracket 5) receive a weighting of 3 (meaning each student counts as three students). This benefits larger districts because they often serve higher numbers of Title I students even if those students make up a smaller proportion of their total populations. The table below shows the five number weighting brackets and the weights they receive under the formulas.

Thanks to data from the Rural Schools and Community Trust, we are now able to present a far more detailed view of the potential effect of the proposed All Children are Equal Act (ACE), introduced by Rep. Glenn Thompson (D-PA) last year. If enacted, the bill  would phase out impact of the number weighting in the Title I formulas over a four year period. Below, we analyze data on how Title I allocations would change under the full implementation of ACE assuming all other factors (like number of Title I students) stay the same. And because locale type (urban, suburban, rural, and town) – used in our last analysis – doesn’t account for the actual size of each district’s Title I eligible population, here we instead examine the change in Title I spending by district number weighting bracket.  This provides us with a nuanced view of the impact of the ACE formula on districts in each bracket and allows us to determine whether the changes would truly benefit the districts with the highest proportions of low-income students.

For this analysis, we calculated the population-weighted average change in Title I allocations in both dollars and percentage per pupil under ACE (comparing actual 2011 allocations to projected 2015 allocations with phased-out number weighting) in each state by number weighting bracket. We also calculated the population-weighted average percentage of Title I-eligible students in districts in each bracket for each state.  Using these averages, we can better understand whether the shifts in Title I funding under ACE will truly provide more funding to the districts that need it most.

We find that districts in the first bracket – those with 691 or fewer Title I students – would see substantial increases in Title I allocations per poor pupil in almost all states. Districts in bracket 1 in Florida will see an average 16.5 percent ($174) increase – a compelling change given that those districts serve the second highest average proportion of Title I eligible students in the state (25.2 percent). Bracket 1 districts in Vermont will see the smallest increase at only 0.1 percent ($4) per Title I pupil on average.

Districts in bracket 2 in the vast majority of states (districts with between 296 and 2,262 Title I students) will also see large increases. Again, bracket 2 districts in Florida will experience the largest increase at 16.4 percent ($178) on average. But some bracket 2 districts will see decreases on average, particularly those in rural states like Wyoming, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

And because ACE will lessen the benefit of number weighting for large districts, districts in brackets 4 and 5 (with 7,852 or more Title I students) in most states will see large decreases in Title I allocations per poor student. In bracket 4, districts in Massachusetts will experience the largest average decrease at 13.6 percent ($314) per Title I pupil. This includes the Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts School Districts. Interestingly, some bracket 4 districts will see moderate average increases, including Flint and Grand Rapids in Michigan and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. However, each of these districts has rather high student poverty rates (35.0 percent on average in Michigan, for example), explaining why the phase-out of number weighting would not necessarily adversely affect their Title I allocations.

All 18 districts in bracket 5 (with 35,515 Title I students or more) in the nation would see decreases under ACE, with the largest in Los Angeles Unified School District in California at 13.7 percent ($241). Philadelphia public schools would see the largest decrease in dollar terms at $303 per Title I pupil. Clark County Public Schools in Nevada would see the smallest decrease at $50 per Title I pupil.

Given these findings, it appears that ACE would achieve the goal of its sponsors and advocates – generally, the smallest districts will see large increases in Title I funding per poor pupil while many of the largest districts will see decreases. But in some cases, these shifts in funding may hurt districts with both large numbers and large proportions of Title I students.

For example, in Connecticut, the state’s districts with the smallest Title I populations (bracket 1) would receive an average 8.2 percent ($94) increase in funding under ACE, while its largest— bracket 3 – districts (the state has no districts in bracket 4 or 5) would see a 6.4 percent ($130) decrease on average. But even though the bracket 3 districts will still get more Title I funds per pupil, $1,907 compared to $1,240 on average, they also have dramatically higher average concentrations of Title I students – 25.9 percent compared to 5.7 percent in bracket 1. Will Connecticut’s large districts truly be able to provide all of the necessary services to their low-income students with significantly reduced federal support?  A similar pattern is evident in other states like California, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

The ACE proposal has opened up the field for a real discussion on improvements to the Title I funding formulas. And it does succeed in bringing more equity to Title I funding per pupil, particularly for smaller districts. But it appears that the proposal as it stands (based on the data we have) could be problematic for large districts with high poverty concentrations; they stand to lose funding.

These findings illustrate the complexities of the current formulas and the unintended consequences they often have. At the same time, this new information should encourage lawmakers and stakeholders to continue to work at improving the formulas rather than settle for the status quo.

To download data for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, click here. Red shading denotes the bracket with the highest proportion of Title I students in each state.


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    Jennifer Cohen Kabaker