New Money but Old Formulas Mean Schools Get Unequal Funds

By Yvonne Yen Liu Mar 27, 2009

Within weeks, monies from the approved stimulus bill will trickle down to schools nation-wide. For some states, the funds are a lifesaver, staving off mass layoffs of teachers in Alabama, and providing a needed infusion of cash for schools who are not meeting the academic standards stipulated by No Child Left Behind. But, those that are in dire need of money–Title I schools who serve low-income, students of color–are still not receiving aid. That’s because the $5 billion in stimulus funds will be distributed using the same federal formulas that created the segregated public education system that we have today. The formula for Title I schools is a complex, bureaucratic one created over decades of Congressional policymaking. It favors schools with high numbers of low-income students and districts that spend a lot per student. Therefore, a high-spending state like Massachusetts gets more money than a low-spending state like Arizona. Schools that get stiffed are those who serve a high percentage of low-income students and those in states that can’t afford high per-pupil spending. The New York Times reported that a rural school district in Utah, struggling with teacher layoffs and cuts in classes, will receive less stimulus cash than one just across the border in Wyoming, which doesn’t need the extra funds. One elementary school in Wyoming is so flush with money they’re able to give each of their students Apple laptops. I needed to see the photos to believe it. The New America foundation has breakdowns of what this means for the nation’s 14,000 school districts. They found that under Title I, the average district will spend $890 for students from low-income families, whereas rich school districts are getting above average infusions of cash, because of the outdated calculus of the funding formula. Montgomery County in Maryland, for example, is one of the most affluent counties in the nation with a majority of white residents. They will receive an extra $1,417 in Title I stimulus money even though they are among the least impoverished school districts. If the Obama administration wants to prioritize giving all children an opportunity to gain a quality education to compete in the 21st century global economy, the formulas need to be reformed now. We cannot rely on the outdated distribution formula that perpetuates the inequality of education resources for our children. Funding for schools should be based instead on an index of the percentage of low-income students, which is also where a disproportionate number of the students of color fall. The Schott Foundation is one leader in the movement to demand redress of the Title I funding formula to provide opportunities for a high quality education for all.