The administration wants to double the funding for a federal program that has failed in its aim to close achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income students.
This week, President Joe Biden released his $5.8 trillion budget proposal for 2023 which included a plan to more than double Title I education funds for low-income students. Biden’s 2022 budget proposal included the same plan to double federal Title I spending, but in the end, Congress only approved a 6% increase, about $19 billion less than what the administration requested.
While Congress is equally unlikely to pursue the president’s proposal this year, it’s important to note why doubling down on Title I funding would be such a flawed strategy. Research consistently shows the program, intended to provide federal funding for schools with higher percentages of children from low-income homes, has failed in its aim to close achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income students since its inception in 1965 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. For example, a study by researchers at George Mason University concluded:
“Given the modest evidence on academic gains and gaps closure attributable to Title I, and considering that the program costs about $15 billion per year, we conclude that Title I compensatory program has been largely ineffective in accomplishing its goal of closing the achievement gaps between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.”
The ineffectiveness should come as no surprise to those familiar with how Title I works. After Biden proposed the 2022 Title I windfall last year, my colleague Christian Barnard and I highlighted just a few of the program’s faults in National Review:
“The current formulas are riddled with complexity, including political provisions that have nothing to do with students’ needs. For example, states are guaranteed a minimum amount of funding even if their share of Title I–eligible students doesn’t warrant it. As a result, Title I dollars are delivered like buckshot, ranging from Idaho getting $984 per eligible student in 2020 to Vermont getting $2,590 per eligible student — 163 percent more per pupil than Idaho. Title I spending needs to be fixed, not increased.”
Keep in mind that President Biden’s Title I proposal comes at a time when many public schools are already flush with cash, thanks to $190 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding that is supposed to prioritize students in high-poverty school districts. Not only that, but public schools are also facing sharp enrollment declines, meaning the budget proposal calls for spending more money on fewer kids when K-12 spending is already at record levels.
Policymakers should be skeptical of continuing to pour more money into a broken federal program. Instead, they should pursue reforms that make Title I dollars flexible, so they support giving families more opportunities and the ability to customize their education. For example, Congress could update the program’s allocation rules and ensure the aid follows students to their public or private school of choice.
Lawmakers could also overhaul the program’s complex web of formulas and non-transparent compliance rules that contribute to school districts’ ineffective spending of the federal funding.
There are a lot of needed reforms to reduce achievement gaps and improve outcomes for low-income students, but pouring more money into Title I isn’t one of them.