On the campaign trail, President Biden proposed increasing federal funding for K–12 education, in part by tripling Title I spending, and it is likely the new administration will want to act quickly to support students (and their schools) in recovering and rebuilding from the pandemic and the inequities it has exacerbated. But the existing Title I formula is a complex and somewhat inefficient way to distribute funds, and even relatively substantial increases in federal money targeted at the district level may have a limited impact on education funding progressivity. Federal policymakers who want to improve outcomes for low-income students may also want to consider supplementing Title I increases with investments in better measures of student need and educational context to spur local and state innovation to decrease inequities.

About $14 billion is allocated to districts through Title I, Part A, aimed at helping low-income students. But the formula is complex, often inequitable, and the dollars make up a relatively small share of overall funding for schools.

Title I dollars are distributed through four grant formulas, each layered on top of the next. States with small populations receive more per eligible low-income student than states with larger populations and the formula may fail to adequately measure student poverty needs, relative the local cost of living. The Education Finance Incentive Grant is designed to incentivize interdistrict equity and effort, but this incentive is likely too small to be effective. And school district leaders may perceive Title I funding rules as overly restrictive, which can lead to investments that can be easily documented (such as professional development or technology) but may not yield substantial improvements in student achievement.

A much larger investment in federal funding for low-income students provides an opportunity to reform allocations without pulling away dollars currently being sent to less-needy schools. Policymakers could retain most or all current Title I allocations to districts per eligible student but layer on substantially more progressive funding.

Read the full article about federal funding for schools by Kristin Blagg at Urban Institute.