Federal report says school district funding policies short-change poor children

Are school districts short-changing schools that predominantly serve poor kids? That’s the claim that the U.S. Department of Education made in a report released several weeks ago.

The report didn’t seem to get much attention, maybe because it came out right before the holidays, or possibly because the topic is pretty far removed from the current narrative of education reform. But it’s probably worth a closer look.

It compares per-pupil spending in schools that receive federal Title I funds, and serve large numbers of students from low-income families, with spending in schools that don’t qualify for Title I. It finds that 40 percent of Title I schools spend less state and local money on teachers and other personnel than comparable non-Title I schools in the same school districts.

You might think that’s OK – that federal funding makes up for what the schools aren’t getting from state and local sources. But according to the DOE, Title I is intended to “supplement, not supplant,” to help schools meet the additional challenge of educating poor children, not compensate for a lack of state and local dollars.

Why would Title I schools receive less? One possible explanation, the report says, is district teacher-assignment policies that often result in sending the least experienced – and lowest-paid – teachers to the highest-poverty and most challenging schools.

The Obama administration wants to change federal education law to require comparable state and local funding for schools that receive Title I money and those that don’t. Doing so, it says, would boost funding for low-spending, high-poverty schools by 4 percent to 15 percent.

Forum on public education in Indiana

State and local advocates for public schools will take part in a forum this Wednesday evening (Jan. 11) in Bloomington, titled “The Future of Indiana’s Public Schools: Are We On the Right Track?”

The forum, which starts at 7 p.m. in the Bloomington High School North Auditorium, will focus on school funding, state grading of schools and collective bargaining for teachers. Panelists will Indiana State Teachers Association president Teresa Meredith, Dennis Costerison of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials, Vic Smith of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education, State Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington and superintendents Judy DeMuth of Monroe County Community Schools and Steve Kain of Richland-Bean Blossom Community Schools.

Sponsors include South-Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, Monroe County Education Association, Richland Bean-Blossom Education Association, Indiana Coalition for Public Education – Monroe County, and White River Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

The following morning (Jan. 12), DeMuth will deliver the first MCCSC State of the School Corporation address at 7:30 a.m. at the John Waldron Art Center in Bloomington. The speech is free, but people who want to attend are asked to register at mccsfoundation.org/events.

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