Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provides funding for school districts that serve low-income students in order to address achievement gaps. However, local use of the funds is perceived as highly restricted due to inconsistent guidance and auditing, and opaque federal allocation formulas do not target funds to the school districts that need them the most.
To encourage school districts to innovate, the Department of Education should improve Title I guidance, help states use existing flexibility, and improve the audit process. In addition, Congress should streamline the allocation formulas to refocus Title I funds on their original antipoverty intent.
Public discussion leading up to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015 focused on the controversial testing, standards, and teacher evaluation provisions of the previous reauthorization, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB; 2002), and its waiver process. These issues were so fraught that little attention was paid to the Title I program, long the bread and butter of ESEA. In this policy proposal Nora Gordon suggests (1) reforms to ensure that the Title I formula gets enough resources to the neediest areas, and (2) improvements in federal guidance and fiscal compliance outreach efforts so that local districts understand the flexibility they have to spend effectively. These are first-order issues for improving high-poverty schools, but so deeply mired in technical and bureaucratic detail that they have received little public attention in the reauthorization process.