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House Proposed Title II Formula Takes Emphasis Away from Poverty

Published:  January 17, 2012

As we discussed last week, the House Education and Workforce Committee recently introduced two new bills as part of its piecemeal approach to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act). The first bill provides new language for Title I of the law, while the second revamps Title II and several other programs. Among the changes to Title II, which authorizes federal programs focused on teacher quality, the House’s “Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act” would alter the way the federal government distributes formula funds for Improving Teacher Quality State Grants to place equal emphasis on state population and poverty.

The Improving Teacher Quality State Grant program provides formula grants to states to support teacher quality activities such as recruitment and retention efforts, teacher placement, and training. The states use part of the funds to make competitive subgrants directly to local school districts. These grants are primarily used for professional development and class-size reduction.

Currently, grants to states are allocated based on the allocation each state received for the program in 2001 prior to the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act. Any additional funds remaining after the initial allocation are distributed among the states based 35 percent on each state’s share of the total 5-17 year old population and 65 percent on each state’s share of the 5-17 year old population living in poverty. Additionally, no state can receive an additional allocation that is less than one-half of one percent of the remaining funds. In 2011, this meant that the smallest allocation (for which 12 states qualified) was just over $11.5 million while the largest (California) was nearly $271 million.

Under the House’s Title II proposal, the grants would be allocated to states based 50 percent on each state’s share of the total 5-17 year old population and 50 percent on each state’s share of the 5-17 year old population living in poverty. Additionally, no state could receive a grant that is less than one-half of one percent of the total appropriation for the program. In 2011, this would have meant a minimum grant of over $12.3 million for the 12 states that qualify for the small state minimum.

What would this formula change mean for states? First, it would eliminate the initial allocation based on state allocations prior to NCLB (which took into account each state’s share of the student population and the relative size of its Title I allocation), setting a new baseline for each state’s allocation that could be either higher or lower than what it currently receives. This is most likely an improvement over the current system, which is based on ancient state data. However, it could cause problems for states that would suddenly receive far less than they currently do.

It would also guarantee the smallest states a higher minimum grant size than they currently receive. As we have written many times before, small state minimums typically mean that the smallest states, which often have relatively small poor populations, receive far more federal funds per pupil than others, disadvantaging low-income students in other states.

Most problematically, however, it would place equal weight on both state population and student poverty in the formula. This would almost certainly benefit medium and large states with relatively small poor populations while hurting lower-income states most in need of federal support for teacher quality. By contrast, current law places more weight on student poverty in states, using it to account for 65 percent of each allocation.

While it is impossible to know what inspired the House to make this change to the Title II formula, it seems like it could mean trouble for states with large low-income student populations. Ed Money Watch will do a more thorough analysis once data become available on what actual state allocations will look like under the proposed formula. Check back for that and continuing coverage of the House’s ESEA proposals.

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