The Title I program contains a “maintenance of effort” provision requiring districts to continue investing at least 90 percent of what they spent for the previous year in state and local funds for the current year. If districts do not meet this requirement, federal funding for Title I—and other programs covered by the provision—is proportionally reduced. By requiring districts to maintain consistent state and local investment, the federal government sought to ensure that its investment created an overall increase in spending on education.
As it was originally enacted in the 1970 Elementary and Secondary Education Act amendments, any cut to state and local funding would be met with the complete loss of federal funds. This requirement has been loosened over the years—with a brief tightening of the requirement back to 100 percent during the Carter administration—to the provision currently in place. While many saw the full maintenance of effort provision as an untenable expectation that would hurt struggling districts, the 90 percent rule effectively allows districts to cut up to 10 percent of funding annually, allowing for significant decreases over the course of just a few short years.
Leading up to the most recent reauthorization of ESEA, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015, the maintenance of effort provision came under scrutiny. The ESEA reauthorization bill approved by the House of Representatives in early 2015 eliminated the requirement entirely, similar to the House bill that was proposed in 2013. The final bill that was signed into law in December, however, ended up leaving the provision intact.