Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as No Child Left Behind) has been fraught with obstacles and years of delay – lawmakers have been fighting over many aspects of the law from fiscal responsibility for state governments and school districts to academic standards. Many stakeholders have weighed in on this still-evolving policy debate. In the latest development, the Center for American Progress (CAP), in partnership with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), released an issue brief this week that summarizes recommendations for fixing Title I, the largest funding stream in ESEA. Their recommendations are based on a series of papers commissioned as part of a conference held in 2011 called “Tightening Up Title I” and range from improving the quality of supplemental education services to bringing more meaning to the “supplement, not supplant” provision.
Perhaps one of the most controversial elements of Title I is the comparability provision. Disagreements over the provision helped to sink ESEA reauthorization negotiations in 2007. As we have written in the past, the comparability provision of Title I requires that school districts provide their low-income and high-income schools with equitable resources before federal funds are factored in. But it also permits districts to obfuscate those numbers by ignoring variation in teacher pay due to years of experience.
Along with their final recommendations, CAP and AEI released the final version of an analysis of Title I comparability and school-level expenditures conducted by the New America Foundation’s Jennifer Cohen and CAP’s Raegan Miller. Cohen and Miller used a Florida dataset that included per-pupil expenditures at individual schools to examine actual spending in Title I and non-Title I schools and determine and the degree to which school district spending practices in Florida undermine the comparability provision.
The authors found that for every 10 percentage point increase in a school’s student poverty rate, average per-pupil expenditure at that school increased by $56. Though this seems positive, the authors warn that an increase of only $56 per pupil is likely too low to indicate that federal funds are actually being used to provide additional services to low-income students. Instead, it is more likely that the districts use federal funds under Title I to both bring funding levels for low-income schools up to the same level as higher-income schools and then provide a little extra. However, it is impossible to know for sure because the Florida data do not distinguish between funds from different sources.
Cohen and Miller’s analysis also examined the relationship between poverty and teacher pay – the biggest driver of school expenditures. For every 10 percentage point increase in a school’s student poverty rate, they found a decrease of more than $200 in that school’s average teacher salary. Teachers in a school with a 70 percent student poverty rate, then, receive an average salary that is $1,000 lower than the average salary in an otherwise identical school with a 20 percent student poverty rate. If the high-poverty school had had access to that additional funding, it could have hired an additional teacher, Cohen and Miller argue. And because student poverty is also closely intertwined with the percentage of minority students, this means that Hispanic and African-American students typically attend schools with far fewer resources than other students.
Further analysis showed that the association between student poverty rate and average teacher salary is eclipsed by the influence of years of teacher experience on teacher salary. In other words, inequities between Title I and non-Title I schools are driven by policies that base teacher salary on experience and by teacher sorting policies (experienced teachers generally elect to teach in higher-income schools) that typically place the least-experienced teachers in lower-income schools.
The report makes two broad recommendations. The first is to close the comparability loophole. We at Ed Money Watch have written extensively about the importance of altering the legislation to lessen the inequities low-income students face, and both the Senate’s Harkin-Enzi proposal for ESEA reauthorization and independent legislation have proposed doing so. But with reauthorization unlikely in the upcoming election year and a divided, highly partisan Congress, the measure seems unlikely to see much action on the Hill, at least in the immediate future.
The second recommendation asks the Department of Education to require annual school-level reporting of per-pupil expenditures. The Department did so for one year through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – data that recently became available for the 2009 school year, a positive step. Only with rich data like Florida’s can states and school districts be held responsible for protecting their low-income students and providing an even footing for students across all schools.
To read Jennifer Cohen and Raegan Miller’s full analysis, click here. The Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute also released six additional briefs related to Title I spending this week, available for download here.