Beware the Consequences of the Burr Title I Amendment

Like everyone else in the education world, we at EdBuild have been watching the ESEA reauthorization debate closely. For the most part, we’ve chosen to stay out of the ruckus, but a proposed change to Title I funding has caught our eye. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) is expected to introduce an amendment this week that simplifies the method for calculating how much each district receives under Title I. There was some discussion last week related to the states that would “win and lose” under the new formula. In general, these changes were attributed to the fact that the amount received per student would now be pegged to a national rather than local cost figure, and to the elimination of the portion of the current formula that rewards progressively funded states (called the Education Finance Incentive Grant Formula). In essence, the widely accepted argument was that states that spend more on education would get less money from Title I aid in the new scenario.

However, as soon as we looked at Emma Brown’s “winners and losers” map from the Washington Post, we realized there was a bigger issue. Alaska, Vermont, and Washington, DC, all towards the top of the list in per-pupil spending, are slated to receive even more money under the Burr amendment. In fact, six of the top ten spenders would gain under the new formula. So while it is true that the amendment would largely be a boon for states that don’t spend as much on education, there’s clearly something else driving the numbers.

What, then, is the additional change? It’s actually related to an element in the current Title I formula that provides progressive funding in response to concentrated poverty. There is a weighting factor included in the Education Finance Incentive Grant formula (among others) that considers the concentration of FRL-eligible students, and this factor that would be weakened by the Burr amendment. This means that, for this portion of Title I, it is specifically the high-spending states with an especially high number of students enrolled in poverty-dense districts that would lose the most money.

In order to verify that the elimination of this concentration factor was driving a large part of the change in funding that states would see under the new formula, we compared three factors across all states: per-pupil spending, statewide number of low-income students, and proportion of students living and learning in highly concentrated poverty. We found that 11 of the 15 states that would lose money under the Burr amendment, as determined by the Congressional Research Service, shared the following three factors:

  • They spend, on a per-pupil basis, more than the national median.
  • They serve a higher absolute number of students in poverty than national median.
  • They serve an above-median percentage of children who are living and learning in dense-poverty districts (defined as those whose students are 80% FRL-eligible or higher, compared to those whose rate is 40% or greater).

It turns out that every state that meets all three of these criteria would lose under the Burr proposal.1

When this part of the ESEA was written into law in 1965, its stated goal was to address the acute needs of low-income children, especially those whose districts struggled to serve high concentrations of students in poverty. After signing the bill into law, President Lyndon Johnson said with pride that the ESEA would “help five million children of poor families overcome their greatest barrier to progress—poverty.“ Today, there are 11.3 million American school-aged children living in poverty, and Senator Burr’s proposal would leave a great many of the neediest behind. This amendment is billed as a streamlined and fair way to rebalance Title I funds, but in our analysis, it falls short of its goals, leaving certain states with less support for more profoundly disadvantaged students—in some cases, quite a lot less.

The Center for American Progress has suggested a few principles for any revision of the Title I allocation formula. EdBuild supports these guidelines as an excellent starting point for any lawmaker seeking, as Senator Burr is, to make Title I both simpler and more equitable.

In the words of Lyndon Johnson, speaking in 1964,

We live in an era where children are using iPads in the classroom, but we've inherited a funding system from a time of horse-drawn carriages. Lyndon Johnson

Title I is one means of fulfilling that promise. We should not undermine its value with a measure that would reduce funding for many students in need.

Interact with the data above to see the effects of this proposal on your state.

1. The other four losing states are generally regressively funded, and they currently benefit from the money that Title I allocates for high-poverty districts in such states. This reduction would only compound the dire situation of poor students in states that don’t progressively fund for concentrated poverty.

*2012 Census of Governments: Finance - Survey of School System Finances.