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ED to Expand Salary-Data Collection

Michele McNeil has a very important post up on the U.S. Department of Education's plans to expand a data-collection requirement in the economic-stimulus bill.

The requirement essentially asks districts to provide information on disparities in expenditures on schools in the same district. Much of those disparities are caused by differentials in educators' salaries that often aren't taken into account.

As she writes, the expanded collection will be part of the Office of Civil Rights' biennial data collection, and might even become an annual requirement.

The odds are that, armed with this information, the administration can make a good case for changing the "comparability" requirement in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It has already signaled that it supports such a change in its ESEA blueprint.

(See here, here and here for background on the comparability requirements if you're coming to this for the first time. The basic idea is that local funding must be comparable among schools before they can receive federal Title I funds.)

This may seem like hopelessly wonky stuff, but think of it this way: If Congress indeed revises the requirement while rewriting ESEA, it would be one of the most far-reaching changes to Title I ever made. Districts, used to budgeting in average rather than actual salary terms, would have to overhaul their accounting systems. They'd be forced to think through how to equalize overall school funding between more- and less-affluent schools. Arguably, this change might have more repercussions than any tweaks made to the annual accountability system.

In a paper released this week by the Center for American Progress, authors John Affeldt and Guillermo Mayer note that a law in California tackling these intra-district funding disparities had bipartisan support, and that we might expect similar broad on Capitol Hill for a comparability change. I'm not so sure. The teachers' unions haven't supported revisions of the comparability language, fearing changes would cause districts to forcibly transfer teachers, and they still carry a lot of clout on the Hill.

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