The Obama administration is expected to release draft rules Wednesday that would govern how school districts allocate billions of Title I dollars meant to educate poor children, one of Capitol Hill’s most hotly debated education issues since Congress passed a new federal education law late last year.
According to a summary of the proposal released early Wednesday morning, the draft rules reflect changes that the Education Department incorporated after its initial proposal received a barrage of criticism, not only from Republicans but also from teachers unions and district and state education leaders.
It’s clear that the changes have not addressed all of those criticisms.
“Schools would be forced to move resources around at the last minute each year to try to meet a federal mandate, rather than doing what is in the best interest of students,” Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said in a statement. “The Every Student Succeeds Act gives states more flexibility so we can create opportunities for all kids, and this proposed rule is not consistent with the law.”
The administration argues that the rules – which are meant to ensure that students in high-poverty schools receive the federal aid they are due – amount to overdue civil rights protections for poor children.
“No single measure will erase generations of resource inequities, and there is much more work to do across states and districts to address additional resource inequities, but this is a concrete step forward to help level the playing field and ensure compliance with the law,” U.S. Secretary of Education John King said in a statement.
At issue is the portion of the new federal education law that requires school districts to use Title I dollars in addition to – not instead of – state and local money. The outlines of that provision – known as “supplement not supplant” — has been in place for decades, and is meant to ensure that districts don’t underfund schools in poor neighborhoods and then use federal aid to make up the difference.
Many school districts are living up to the law but thousands of high-poverty schools are being shortchanged, receiving less state and local money than more affluent schools within the same district, according to the Obama administration.
Earlier this year, the administration floated a proposal that would have required school districts to fix that issue by demonstrating that state and local per-pupil funding in Title I schools is at least equal to the average per-pupil spending in non-Title I schools.
Leading Republicans accused the administration of trying to unilaterally rewrite the law because the proposal appeared to require districts to include teacher salaries in their calculations of equitable spending – a policy that Congress expressly forbade in the Every Student Succeeds Act, and that might also force some teachers to transfer to different schools to equalize spending.
Teachers unions also objected, as did state and local superintendents, who said the administration’s proposal was impractical and would thrust districts nationwide into chaos, including by forcing large numbers of teachers to transfer to new buildings.
The department’s new proposal, expected to be published in full on its website Wednesday and in the Federal Register next week, maintains its original proposal but also offers districts three additional options to demonstrate compliance with the supplement not supplant provision. Those options are:
– Adopt a funding formula that sends more money to schools for disadvantaged students, such as those who are poor, who are learning English as a second language or who have disabilities.
– Adopt a formula that allocates resources – including staff and non-personnel spending – to schools. Districts would show that Title I schools are getting the money they’re due, according to the Education Department, “as measured by the sum of (1) the number of personnel in the school multiplied by the district’s average salaries for each staff category, and (2) the number of students in the school multiplied by the district’s average per-pupil expenditures for non-personnel resources;”
– Adopt an alternative test developed by the state and approved by a panel of expert peer reviewers.
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the draft rule “an important step toward improving an intolerable status quo.”
The Education Department said that the proposed regulation would ensure an additional $2 billion in spending in high-poverty Title I schools. The agency also said it would like to see districts comply not by forcing teacher transfers or by shifting resources from affluent schools to high-poverty schools, but by devoting more money overall to education – which could be a difficult sell in districts already struggling with tough budgets.
Spokesmen for key members of Congress and union leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
The Education Department must accept and respond to public comments on the draft rule before issuing a final rule.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Emma Brown