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Is a Title I Funding-Formula Fight on the Horizon?

If a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act goes to the floor of the House next week, look for a hot policy debate over ... funding formulas. (You thought I was gonna say common core, didn't you? Well, probably that too.)

Advocates for rural schools, including the American Association of School Administrators and the Rural School and Community Trust, have long bemoaned the Title I funding formula, which they say shortchanges rural areas because it takes into account a district's population, and not just concentrations of poverty. Great write-up by my former colleague David Hoff here.

Those groups have found a champion in U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., whose western Pennsylvania district loses out under the current formula. Thompson has teamed up with Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., to reintroduce the All Children are Equal Act, which seeks to refocus the formula to ensure that districts with high concentrations of poverty (and, perhaps, smaller populations) don't lose out.

In an interview, Thompson pointed out that it's not just rural districts that gain under his bill: The Cleveland Municipal School District would stand to rake in almost $6.5 million in extra Title I funding over the next four years if the legislation were enacted. This isn't the first time the bill has been introduced, we wrote about the previous version here.

The measure would phase in the changes over four years, Thompson explained, so that districts that would ultimately see less funding wouldn't get the rug pulled out from under them all at once. Everything you ever wanted to know about the bill, its purpose, and its supporters right here.

The legislation "is an equitable and fair solution that's going to address a fundamental flaw in Title I," Thompson said in an interview July 11. "Every child should be treated equally under the law. Poverty is poverty, no matter where a child resides." The bill has the thumbs up from a number of rural and education groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Parent Teacher Association.

Who is decidedly against this? The Council of the Great City Schools, for one. Jeff Simmering, the director of legislative services for the group, says the ACE act "just rips a huge amount of money from large urban districts" particularly in states like Maryland, Florida, and Georgia where school districts take up entire counties, as opposed to states (like Pennsylvania) with lots of smaller school districts.

"They are disproportionately hit," he said. "We recognize that every formula is going to have some quirks ... but we think it's a really bad idea."

And, he said, the bill could really gum up the works when it comes to passing an Elementary and Secondary Education Act rewrite in general.

"You open up a Title I formula fight and that just complicates reauthorization," he said. "It becomes all about the money and not about the policy."

Despite its bipartisan pedigree, it's unclear whether the measure will even make it past the House Rules Committee, which serves as a gatekeeper of sorts—the panel gets to decide which amendments actually get floor consideration. Formula funding amendments don't have a great track record in Rules, an advocate told me this week.

And partisan politics could play a role too. Some inside baseball: Thompson actually introduced his bill as an amendment to the ESEA bill considered by the House education committee back in 2012. And it failed, in part because no Democrats voted for it (even the ones who were supporters of the bill). Democrats had essentially decided that they weren't going to vote for any amendments because they disliked the underlying legislation so much.

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