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White House Chides Republicans for Proposal That Would Hurt Poor School Districts

Denise Chan
Creative Commons
Once the Title I allocation methods changed, the estimated number of poor kids in Darien nearly tripled, yet no other data supported these numbers.

White House officials are worried that proposed legislation from House Republicans would transfer money from poor school districts to wealthy ones. But this is already happening across the country after changes made under the current administration.

The funding program called Title I was created to give federal money to the poorest schools in the country, yet, for at least the last two years, wealthy schools have been getting Title I cash.

It's a bit complicated, but basically the federal government uses a complex formula to estimate poverty levels in towns and cities. Officials recently began using data from the American Community Survey to help them figure out how many poor students are in each town, but upon closer examination of the actual estimates, the margin of error is often as big as the estimate.

Take Darien, which was the eleventh-wealthiest town in the country in 2011. Once the Title I allocation methods changed, the estimated number of poor kids there nearly tripled, yet no other data supported these numbers. The same ratio of kids was getting free or reduced lunch as in prior years, and local social services agencies were not seeing a dramatic rise in aid requests. 

Last year, the eight wealthiest towns in Fairfield County got over a$1 million in money slated for poor school districts. By contrast, Hartford Public Schools got roughly $1 million less.

Some of the wealthy districts started getting Title I cash after the 2008 financial collapse, but a few have only recently been getting this grant. 

During a media conference call, I asked Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, if her office has an alternative plan to the Republicans' proposal. "Are there any plans on the table to kind of look at the problem that's taking place now, in terms of wealthy districts getting Title I funds, and what would that plan be?" I asked.

Muñoz paused for about five seconds before answering.

"No, we're following the law, essentially, you know, as best we can, so there's no such plans," she responded.

Muñoz said that the House Republicans' proposed legislation, known as the Student Success Act, or HR-5, would leave "over $7 billion less [in Title I money] to our schools than the president’s budget over six years," and would "take funding from the schools that need it most and [give] it to some of the nation’s wealthiest districts." 

Muñoz declined to comment if President Obama would veto HR-5 if passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate. 

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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