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Title I Battle: Rural Texas Loses to Urban Maryland

The Formula Fairness blog keeps digging up horror stories to back up its contention that the way federal Title I funds are distributed puts small, poor school districts at a big disadvantage.

This post by Marty Strange, of the Rural School and Community Trust, is the latest. It contrasts funding for Texas' 28th Congressional District with funding for Maryland's Prince George's County School District.

A summary: Thanks to number weighting, and the fact the Title I formula bases funding in part on the average per-pupil spending in all schools in a state, the Texas schools get only two-thirds as much money per pupil as does Prince George's County—even though poverty rates in a number of the Texas school districts are as much as five or six times higher.

I'll let you read and be the judge, but the numbers are startling. The average student poverty rate in the districts in the Texas 28th is 38 percent. The average rate in Prince George's County is less than 10 percent. Yet the poorer Texas school districts get significantly less money per pupil.

Schools use Title I money to assist children in poverty, who are often at risk for academic failure. Number weighting, which began in 2002, uses a formula based on the numbers of poor students a district has. It does not take into account high percentages of poverty in school districts, a factor critics say can be costly to address. Critics such as Strange say Title I payments do not accurately reflect the financial burden faced by small districts—rural or urban—that assist students in schools where poverty is highly concentrated.

Read more about the Title I controversy in this earlier Rural Education blog post.

The Formula Fairness Campaign, a partnership of organizations with rural roots, is working to persuade Congress to revise the formula when it reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But as summer winds down, so does the likelihood that Congress will act on ESEA—or take up the sticky issue of Title I. Read about where that stands and what the deputy secretary for rural outreach at the U.S. Department of Education said about the formula earlier this month.

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