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Ed Money Watch

A Blog from New America's Federal Education Budget Project

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A Closer Look at Title I Funding in Urban versus Rural Districts

Published:  February 28, 2012

At Ed Money Watch, we have often encouraged Congress to consider changing the Title I funding formulas to more logically target disadvantaged students in states and school districts. That’s why we were glad to learn that today the House Committee on Education and the Workforce will likely vote on an amendment to the Student Success Act (HR 3989) that would change the Title I funding formula to more equitably fund rural school districts.

Known as the All Children are Equal (ACE) Act, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson’s (R-PA) amendment would phase out the number weighting provision in the Title I funding formulas. Currently, number weighting directs disproportionately high Title I allocations to large school districts, even though they may have relatively low concentrations of students in poverty. Eliminating this provision would theoretically ensure that smaller districts with larger poverty concentrations – typically rural districts – receive a greater, more fair share of funding.

Organizations representing rural school districts, such as the Rural Schools and Community Trust, have long pushed to eliminate number weighting in the Title I formulas. A brief look at the data shows why.

To get a better sense of how Title I allocations vary by school district locale type – urban, suburban, town, and rural, as defined by the National Center for Education Statistics – Ed Money Watch went to the data the Federal Education Budget Project collects on Title I allocations by district.* In each state, we calculated the average 2010 Title I allocation per poor pupil (as defined by the Census poverty rate) weighted by the population of poor students by district locale type. The data exclude Hawaii and the District of Columbia, each of which has only a single school district. Wisconsin is also excluded from the analysis because the National Center for Education Statistics does not provide a locale type designation for school districts in the state. This average allocation gives us a better sense of how much more urban and suburban districts are getting than rural districts as result of number weighting and other provisions in the Title I formulas.

Our findings match expectations, for the most part. In all but six states, the federal funding formula provided urban districts with more Title I funding per poor pupil than rural school districts. In Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Michigan, urban districts received more than 50 percent more Title I funding per poor pupil than their rural counterparts. The funding formula provided urban districts in another 22 states with between 20 and 50 percent more Title I funding per poor pupil than rural districts in those states. The six states where rural districts received more per poor pupil than urban districts – Kentucky, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia – are both small and predominantly rural, potentially explaining why their rural districts fare so well. It is possible that the large number of rural districts in each state and the influence of the small state minimum may overcome the effects of number weighting. North and South Dakota are particular outliers – the funding formula provided their urban districts with 37.1 percent and 45.6 percent less Title I funding per poor pupil, respectively, than their rural districts.

The results are less clear-cut for suburban districts. The federal funding formula provided suburban districts in 25 states with more Title I funding per poor pupil than their rural counterparts.  Of the 22 states where rural districts received more Title I funding per pupil, rural districts in 5 states received more than 50 percent more than their suburban counterparts. In North and South Dakota, rural districts got more than twice as much Title I money per poor pupil than suburban districts. But again, these small, rural states likely have very few suburban districts.

Given this evidence, it is clear that urban districts in the vast majority of states fare far better per poor pupil than their rural counterparts. However, the urban advantage is much stronger in some states than others, suggesting that other provisions in the Title I funding formulas – like the small state minimums and state fiscal effort – alter the effect of number weighting. But the data also suggest that the number weighting in the funding formula does not benefit suburban districts as much as it does urban districts – in many states, rural districts receive more Title I funds per poor pupil than their suburban counterparts.

As the lawmakers on the House Education and Workforce Committee get set to vote on the All Children are Equal (ACE) Act, some might shy away from what will certainly be a complicated debate. But this pending formula fight is worth it.

Not only should Congress address how the current formula – which distributes over $14.5 billion in federal funding to districts annually – disadvantages rural districts with its number weighting provision, they should tackle other provisions in the formula that also skew Title I distributions to states and districts with smaller concentrations of poor students. 

Click here to see these data for all 50 states.

Click here to search for your district on the Federal Education Budget Project website.

*We downloaded the full dataset for K-12 districts (available here) and conducted the analysis in Stata.

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