The Department of Education has released its revised rules governing how school districts allocate Title I dollars. The underlying idea is that districts must use Title I dollars to add resources to poor schools on top of the baseline that districts provide to all schools.  It is the supplement-not-supplant principle.

The initial proposal was widely criticized. In that set of rules, the Department asked districts to demonstrate 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. The Department took the comments it received seriously and incorporated a number of changes into these revised rules. But critics, Republican Congressional leaders, the teacher unions, the chiefs, district superintendents, remain unhappy.

A Complex Issue with Title I

I don’t pretend to fully understand the operational requirements of the four options the Department included in this set of draft rules. By adding three new options, the Department believes it is not dictating the method districts use to be in compliance. But generally critics continue to see the overall thrust of this plan as over reach. The civil rights community generally side with the Department.

The Department contends that 3.3 million children are enrolled in some 5,750 Title I schools that receive substantially less state and local funding then their non-Title I peers in the same district. The Department calculates that these schools are shortchanged by an average of about $440,000 annually; this causes them to use Title I dollars to make up the shortfall.

It should be noted that more than 90% of districts do ensure that their Title I schools receive the same amount of per-pupil funding as non-Title schools. With so many districts already in compliance, it’s hard to understand just what the sticking point is here. But clearly there is one and neither side seems inclined to compromise.

The Department must accept and respond to comments on it revised rule before publishing a final rule. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee, has vowed to do everything in his power to overturn the final rules if they resemble this second draft.