More confusion on Title I allocations

The fallout continues from the Indiana Department of Education’s allocation of federal Title I funds for 2015-16, and nowhere near all the questions have been answered.

In the latest development, the department announced Monday that it is asking the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from restrictions on how some schools can spend the money. This is a belated attempt to help schools – most of them charter schools – that got a smaller-than-expected Title I planning allocation last year and a big bump when allocations were adjusted this spring.

The announcement says the department is asking for the waiver. But then it also asks the public for input on whether it should ask for the waiver, by May 16. So that’s a little confusing.

According to the department, Title I funds that are allocated for 2015-16 but aren’t spent by the end of the school year can be carried over and used during the following year. Typically, schools aren’t supposed to carry over more than 15 percent of their total allocation.

They can get permission to carry over more than 15 percent, but no more than once every three years. It’s that once-in-three-years limit that the state is asking the feds to waive, if I’m reading the announcement correctly.

It’s making the request for schools that saw an increase of more than 10 percent from the Title I planning allocation they were awarded last year to the revised amount they were allocated in March 2016. There are 54 such schools, the department says. From what I can tell, they include about 50 charter schools, four turnaround schools and maybe one public school district.

Because the adjustments came so late in the school year, those schools didn’t have a fair opportunity to spend all the money to which they were entitled. The idea is, they’ll be able to add the unspent funds to their allocations for 2016-17 and provide more services then.

The trickier question concerns what will happen with the approximately 130 public school districts and handful of charter schools that saw downward adjustments to their Title I allocations in March. Some of the adjustments were large. Indianapolis Public Schools lost $2.8 million, or 13.5 percent of their Title I funds. Gary Public Schools lost $1.3 million, or 19 percent of their allocation.

Chances are that money has already been spent, or at least committed. Will the districts have to pay it back? Will they have to take reductions in allocations for future years? The Indiana Department of Education says it is working with districts to mitigate the effects, but details haven’t been announced.

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