I’ve gotten a crash course in the intricacies of Title 1 funding over the last few weeks.
Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for the uninitiated is the federal government program that provides financial support to high poverty schools. Under the law, school districts are required to distribute the federal money to schools with 75 percent or more students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch.
The free lunch program eligibility is how the federal government, the states and the school districts define poverty. To qualify, a student must come from a family that earns less than 1.85 times the federal poverty guideline. For example, a student would qualify for free lunch if her family of four earned less that $29,055 and would qualify for reduced price lunch if they earned less than $41,348.
School districts have the right under the federal law to provide Title 1 funding to schools with a lower poverty rate if they have the money to do so without jeopardizing the funds for the supermajority low-income schools.
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has for many years, classified schools with at least 40 percent low-income students as Title 1 eligible and provided them with funding aimed at helping those students achieve academically.
This year, however, the federal government cut Title 1 funding.
I’m suddenly paying close attention to Title 1 eligibility because my children’s school, Walgrove Avenue Elementary, is next year because the school board voted in December to move the bar for eligibility from 40 percent to 50 percent students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch. Walgrove now has 45 percent students who qualify, and like all the other schools between 40 and 50 percent, that means we will lose all our Title 1 funding.
At Walgrove, Title 1 funding for this year is $67,000, at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES), it is $435,000 and at Westchester High School it is $750,000. By cutting funding to all 23 schools the district will save $4.9 million that will then be distributed to the highest poverty schools.
Parents at many of the affected schools are lobbying the board hard to change their minds. Tamar Galatzan, who represents part of the San Fernando Valley where several of the schools on the list are located, was the one board vote against the decision. She also continues to oppose it.
I can’t argue with giving more money to high poverty schools. They certainly need it. And almost 80 percent of district schools meet this high poverty threshold. However, the incremental difference that those schools will get when the $4.9 million is divided among them will not be very large. The losses it will cause at the schools suddenly bumped off the list will be tremendous.
I’m left wondering if we could find a smarter way to divide this money. Wouldn’t it be more effective if the Title 1 money were essentially portable and moved with low-income children to the schools they attend? A system like that would give schools in wealthier neighborhoods an incentive to recruit low-income families. It might wind up leading to greater economic integration.
Children who live in poverty have tremendous disadvantages in school and it is both morally right and economically sound policy to spend tax dollars to try to improve their odds.
Twenty-two percent of America’s children are poor, and we need to find ways to help them succeed in school so that they can grow up to become productive members of society. I’m just not sure that snatching away funding for poor students from schools whose kids are nearly half high-poverty is going to do much to help kids whose schools are almost all poor.