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Title I Money Would Follow Students to Charters Under U.S. House Bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives today passed its version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, including an amendment that will allow Title I funds to flow to charter schools, after two days of debate.

The bill passed 221-207 with no Democratic support and 12 Republicans crossing party lines to vote against it. The bill, dubbed the "Student Success Act," gives states and school districts more control and flexibility for spending federal funds and improving low-performing schools, and it strips the No Child Left Behind provision that requires states to set specific goals for student achievement for the general population of students as well as certain groups of students, such as English-language learners and special education students.

The Title I portability amendment was introduced by the House Majority Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, a Republican, and drummed up a debate between him and Rep. George Miller, a top Democrat on the House education committee, in the final hours before the vote, with Miller calling the amendment "imitation vouchers."

The portability amendment allows parents to take Title I dollars to any public school of their choice, including charters. This would be a departure from how those dollars are typically distributed, tying the funds to individual students rather than steering the dollars to schools with high numbers of low-income students.

Although the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools did not take an official stance for or against the House bill, it does support the Title I provision, said Nina Rees, the organization's president and chief executive officer, in an interview today.

"By and large, we feel that when the dollars follow children to the school that they select, you create a better marketplace for reform," she said. "Attaching [Title I] dollars directly to those students who are eligible will make it easier to implement from an accounting standpoint," and makes the process more transparent, she said.

Currently, some charter schools do receive Title I dollars, Rees said, but the provision could expand the number of charters that receive Title I funds because of the change to the distribution model.

Both the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) supported the bill but came out in opposition to the Cantor amendment. After the passage of the amendment, the groups continued endorsing the legislation while making their stance on Title I portability known.

"Under the portability program, if children leave a Title I school to go to another school [such as a charter school], the result is a voucher program that leaves the Title I school with fewer funds to serve its students," said Michael Resnick, NSBA's associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy. In essence, the provision would siphon funds from the neediest schools, said Resnick, to go toward schools that may not be serving the highest-need student populations without reducing the cost of operation for schools with high concentrations of students in poverty.

The Democratic-controlled Senate education committee passed its own (very different) version of the ESEA in June that does not include Title I portability, so the House and Senate versions of the bill would have to be hammered out in committee—if that ever happens, as Education Week reporter Alyson Klein explains. So far, the Senate has not voted on a final version of its bill and such a vote has not been scheduled.

In addition, the Obama Administration has threatened to veto the House bill in its current form.

For more about ESEA and NCLB-renewal, click here for a collection of EdWeek's coverage.

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