School Beat: Title 1 Funds for All Title 1 Students

by Lisa Schiff on May 3, 2012

In 1965 in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and our nation’s deepest and most widespread call for social equality, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was intended to address the severe structural inequalities in our nation as they were reflected in our educational system. In a time of legalized discrimination, Title 1 of ESEA was explicitly designed to provide targeted support for low-income students who were by definition of their income status considered to be educationally disadvantaged.

Because it recognized, at least in the realm of education, the deleterious effects of income inequality in our society and attempted to redistribute resources accordingly, Title 1 can be considered the core component that made the original ESEA so groundbreaking and powerful, and represents a true watershed moment in public education history.

Jumping ahead decades later, Title 1 still exists as part of ESEA, which was reauthorized under the name “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). It continues to provide a significant (though still insufficient) source of funding for districts across the country, especially those districts with high numbers of low income students. For the 2011 Fiscal Year, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) received just about $14.7 million dollars (data for all states and districts are available from the Department of Education), a notable contribution to our total budget of about $560 million (see Exhibit 9 of the SFUSD 2010-2011 budget for more budget details).

Title 1 monies are not given out to individual students, but rather go to schools with high concentrations of low-income students. In the SFUSD, students are considered to have “Title 1” status if they qualify for a free or reduced lunch and in turn, a school is designated as a Title 1 school – meaning it will receive Title 1 funds–if the percentage of low-income students is the same or greater than the district’s for that year. According to 2011-2012 data from the California Basic Educational Data System, 61.1% of SFUSD students qualified for a free or reduced lunch, so according to our district’s formula, any school with this percentage or higher of qualifying students will receive a proportionate amount of Title 1 federal funds.

On the face of it, this seems reasonable, but a bit of digging exposes some serious flaws in this allocation method. First, Title 1 itself states that any school with a low-income student population of 40% or more can use Title 1 funds (see Sec. 1114 School Wide Programs). Second, an analysis of the distribution of low-income students in the SFUSD reveals that large numbers of qualifying students are at non-Title 1 schools, meaning that those students are not receiving the extra programs and support to which they are entitled.

This is demonstrated exceptionally clearly in the middle school strand, where large student body counts result in lower percentages of low-income students, even though the actual number of low-income students is large. None of the four largest middle schools – Aptos, Giannini, Hoover and Presidio – qualifies as a Title 1 school, yet each of those schools has more low-income students than any of the Title 1 qualifying middle schools, except for Marina, and they are all over the 40% threshold referenced in the Title 1 legislation. Rubbing salt in the wounds, Aptos and Hoover are each less than 10 individual students shy of qualifying for our district’s high 61.1% threshold. Looking at aggregated numbers, 3457 low-income middle school students are rightfully receiving extra support from Title 1 funds, while 2488 students with that same income status are not receiving what they are due, simply because they happen to attend large schools.

This situation is not acceptable, but fortunately there are other options to consider, from reducing the threshold to incorporating a per-qualifying-student approach, similar to the Weighted Student Formula (WSF) model currently used for other funds. More evidence for this approach is coming from Governor Brown’s office, with his current proposal to revamp and streamline state funding allocations by using a Weighted Pupil Formula, designed to provide a base amount, plus additional funding for English learners and low-income students. Tthe Public Policy Institute of California recently released a promising analysis of the proposal.

Our district’s Title 1 allocation method needs to be updated. It is out of sync with the assignment system and enrollment patterns, is actually at odds with our stated goal of supporting a diverse socio-economic body at each school and most importantly is keeping funds away from a large number of students who are entitled to and need those resources.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco and the PTA.

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