The largest federal initiative aimed at improving educational outcomes for low-income students does not effectively serve high school students, according to a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The brief, “Overlooked and Underpaid: How Title I Shortchanges High Schools and What ESEA Can Do About It,” finds that only 10 percent of the approximately $14 billion Title I program supports high school students even though they account for nearly 25 percent of the nation’s low-income students.
“High schools are an afterthought in Title I,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Far too often, high-poverty high schools do not receive Title I funding, and in some instances, are not even eligible to receive it. As Congress works to rewrite No Child Left Behind, it must strengthen Title I to better meet the needs of the nation’s high schools without harming the nation’s elementary schools.”
The brief explains two disadvantages that low-income/high-poverty high schools face under the existing Title I program—funding and eligibility—and presents options for reforming the program through the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), currently known as No Child Left Behind.
As the brief explains, all states and 90 percent of school districts receive funding from Title I, with each district deciding which schools receive funding and how much they receive. Most school districts allocate funding based on free and reduced-price lunch eligibility, but this measure tends to underestimate poverty at the high school level because older students frequently fail to submit their free and reduced-price lunch forms. The brief provides specific examples in which high schools with higher poverty rates have often been skipped over in funding decisions in favor of middle and elementary schools with lower poverty rates.
As an alternative to the free and reduced-price lunch option, the brief suggests the use of a “feeder pattern,” which assigns poverty levels to a high school based on the average poverty rate of elementary schools that feed into it. Although permitted by the U.S. Department of Education and considered more accurate than the free and reduced-price lunch option, the feeder pattern calculation is only used by 4 percent of school districts.
Complicating matters for high schools, many high-poverty high schools are not eligible for Title I funds. In fact, the brief finds that nearly 1,300 high schools in which 50 percent or more of their students come from low-income families are not eligible for Title I funds.
According to the brief, Title I eligibility is more important now than in the past because federal programs can require Title I eligibility or create a funding priority for Title I–eligible schools. For example, a secondary school must either receive or be eligible for Title I funds in order to receive a School Improvement Grant (SIG), which are targeted to the nation’s lowest-performing schools. As a result, nearly 600 of the nation’s approximately 2,000 lowest-performing high schools, which have graduation rates less than 60 percent, are not eligible for Title I or SIG funds.
“Making serious progress on the nation’s dropout crisis means targeting resources and reform to the nation’s lowest-performing high schools,” Wise said. “But without changes to the way Title I is structured, many of these high-need high schools will not receive the assistance necessary to improve outcomes for their students. Since the days of George W. Bush’s presidency, policymakers have understood that Title I places high schools at a disadvantage, but they have done little to fix it.”
“Overlooked and Underpaid” offers the following recommendations for how policymakers can strengthen Title I as part of ESEA reauthorization:
- Require districts to use feeder-pattern projections to calculate high schools’ poverty rates and use this projection to allocate Title I funds if it is higher than the poverty rate based on free and reduced-price lunch eligibility.
- Grant automatic Title I eligibility to high schools with a poverty rate of 35 percent or higher as determined by the feeder pattern.
- Reduce or eliminate the 75 percent threshold at which school districts are required to fund schools. Because high schools are larger than elementary schools, they are less likely to have poverty rates at or above 75 percent even though they may have significantly more poor students than their feeder elementary and middle schools.
- Target Title I funds to high schools so that they receive a share of Title I funding that is at least equal to the percentage of low-income students attending high schools in the district.
In conjunction with the release of the Alliance’s “Overlooked and Underpaid” brief, the Alliance also released a longer report written by Wayne Riddle, an independent education policy consultant who served as a specialist in education policy at the Congressional Research Service from 1972 to 2009. The longer report, Title I and High Schools: Addressing the Needs of Disadvantaged Students at All Grade Levels, provides greater detail on the allocation of Title I funds and an in-depth analysis of why high schools receive such a small share of Title I funding.
Download the “Overlooked and Underpaid” policy brief, which includes a state-by-state breakdown of the number of high-poverty high schools that are Title I eligible in each state here
Download Wayne Riddle’s Title I and High Schools report here