NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Title I Funds Are Distributed To Schools, Not Poor Students

May 10, 2000

Title I funds are the biggest single federal outlay for K-12 education and they flow from Washington to state capitals to local school districts -- and then to schools having a preponderance of poor children. The schools themselves, not the children, get the money.

This is in marked contrast with the way Washington distributes aid to needy college students. So-called "Pell grants," which are given to students from low-income families, do not go to universities. They go to students themselves to use at the institution of their choice.

Critics claim that the Title I method of funding promotes economic segregation.

  • In many big cities, only schools where at least 60 percent of the students are poor receive Title I money.
  • Thus in such districts, poor student are eligible for federal funding only if they go to schools where most other children are also poor.
  • Millions of poor children who attend middle-class schools are not backed up by Title I funds at all.
  • So school authorities have an incentive to cluster poor children -- economically segregating them from their better-off peers.

If higher education were funded like Title I, federal money would support only those colleges where most students were from poor families. Poor students who wanted to attend a university with a largely middle-class student body would receive no federal aid -- resulting in a two-tier class-based system.

On the other hand, if elementary and secondary education were funded the way higher education is, poor children would be able to move to better schools and bring with them a federal stipend. But those who protest against vouchers don't want to see than happen.

Title I currently distributes $8 billion annually. But two congressionally-mandated evaluations of it have shown that it has not improved the performance of poor children relative to others.

Source: Diane Ravitch (Brookings Institution and Hoover Institution), "Help Poor Kids, Not Poor Schools," Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2000.


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