Low-income schools shortchanged

40 percent in same districts get less money
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Being proven right is usually a cause for some self-satisfaction, but U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was troubled Wednesday when he announced results of a new Department of Education study on Title I and other high-poverty schools.

“Today, we’re releasing key findings that confirm an unfortunate reality in our nation’s education system,” said Duncan during a phone call with journalists. “Many public schools serving low-income children aren’t getting their fair share of state and local funding.” (Read Duncan’s entire statement here.)

Unequal spending on salaries in Title I schools. (Source:  U.S. Dept. of Education). Click to enlarge.

Unequal spending on salaries in Title I schools. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Education). Click to enlarge.

By “many” Duncan means a lot. More than 40 percent of Title I schools spent less per student on salaries than non-Title I schools within the same district, according to the first-of-its-kind study. U.S. Department of Education researchers examined teacher salaries and spending on other resources for more than 13,000 school districts across the country. Schools had to submit the information as a requirement for receiving funds under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Of California’s 10,000 or so schools, well over 6,000 receive funds from the federal Title I program to provide additional support for children considered at risk due to poverty. The Department of Education’s report came one day after the U.S. Census Bureau released new figures showing that more than one in five U.S. children live in poverty, an increase of over a million children between 2009 and 2010.

Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA is the previous and soon to be subsequent name of No Child Left Behind), schools eligible for Title I funding first have to receive state and local funding that’s comparable to the amount given to non-Title I schools. Since about 80 percent of funding goes to salaries, it should be simple to calculate. However, the definition of comparability was compromised by a loophole in Title I language that allows reporting by district-wide salary averages rather than by individual schools.

Here’s the legalese version as written in the law (a note of caution: skip this if you’re prone to dizziness):

(B) Determinations – For the purpose of this subsection, in the determination of expenditures per pupil from State and local funds, or instructional salaries per pupil from State and local funds, staff salary differentials for years of employment shall not be included in such determinations.

The loophole makes it nearly impossible for the U.S. Department of Education to know whether districts are giving Title I schools at least an equal amount of state and local funds as the rest of the schools in the district.

“In far too many places Title I money is filling budget gaps rather than being used to close achievement gaps,” said Duncan.

That would change if the reauthorization of ESEA authored by U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) makes it through Congress. They’ve inserted language to close the loophole.

California takes the lead

In its usual ambivalent fashion, California is a bit ahead of the rest of the nation in requiring better reporting, but is not doing so well in ensuring that the data is accurate and uniform. In 2005, California passed SB 687, the first law in the country requiring every district to report per-pupil spending annually – including teacher salaries – on a school-by-school basis. The bill, by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), amended the School Accountability Report Card, or SARC: detailed reports containing demographics and other information that every school must complete and make public.

One problem with SARC, said attorney John Affeldt with Public Advocates, is that the State Department of Education has not provided clear guidance on the reporting categories. In a report he co-authored on SB 687, titled “Lifting the Fog of Averages,” one example, said Affeldt, is that while some districts include librarians in the same group as teachers, others put librarians in a different pot. And when counting people who work at more than one school, such as custodians and resource specialists, some districts will divvy up the salary among all the schools, while others make it a district expenditure.

“A key next step for federal and state policy is to move toward having all districts follow the same decision rules in accounting for expenditures,” said Affeldt. “That way, we will finally be able to compare school-level spending across districts and even across states.”

For now, the ambiguity in the law, especially in Title I, allows districts to continue the practice of putting the lowest-paid

Salary gaps can reach nearly $4,000 in districts with large ranges in poverty levels. (Source: Center for American Progress). Click to enlarge.

Salary gaps can reach nearly $4,000 in districts with large ranges in poverty levels. (Source: Center for American Progress). Click to enlarge.

teachers, i.e., the least experienced, to work in the highest-poverty schools.

California Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) is attempting to take SB 687 a step or two further.  Her bill, AB 18, would create a weighted student funding formula that would give schools more money for each low-income child enrolled.  AB 18 is on a two-year track, and should be taken up in the next legislative session.

But Duncan insists that states and districts don’t need to rewrite their funding formulas to abide by the intent of Title I.  Most districts would have to change only 1 to 4 percent of their total school-level expenditures in order to provide comparable funding for their Title I and high-poverty schools, said Duncan.  But that small shift could be huge for Title I schools, bringing an increase in funding of between 4 and 15 percent.

The U.S. Department of Education has put a searchable database on line for educators, parents, policymakers and anyone in the public to see how their local districts stack up in funding high-poverty schools.  From there, Duncan said he hopes to get a national conversation going. Only Congress can change the actual law, said Duncan, but that doesn’t mean that school districts can’t start doing the right thing.

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15 Comments

  1. The School Accountability Report Card (SARC) was part of Prop 98. (1988) Simitian’s bill (2005) amended it to include teacher salaries.

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  2. Virginia, my error.  I have corrected it.  Thank you.

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  3. Kathryn – Can you clarify something?  Are title I schools recieving less money or are they spending less on teachers?  There’s a big difference.  A lot of these schools have newer teachers. Teachers are strictly paid by seniority, so new teachers cost less. Am I missing something?

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  4. capitolreader,  The two are intertwined.  Since about 80 percent of school expenditures are for salaries, the data indicate that Title I schools have newer teachers and possibly a high turnover of teachers.  In a 2005 report called “California’s Hidden Teacher Spending Gap,” EdTrust-West found that “of the 50 largest California school districts, 42 spend less on teachers in schools serving mostly low income students than in schools serving the fewest numbers of poor students.” Here’s the url:  http://www.edtrust.org/sites/edtrust.org/files/publications/files/CAHiddenTeacherSpendingGapReport.pdf
    There’s no guarantee that veteran teachers are better teachers, but many studies do find that teachers do need several years of experience and mentoring on the job to truly become highly-qualified.

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  5. At my school, undisclosed for good reason. Title one money is swept from at lease high schools into the general fund

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  6. Thanks, Kathryn.  And actually it’s closer to 90% of the budget on salaries in California.  So it seems the answer to this problem would be to give school districts more flexibility in who they hire, how much they pay and where teachers are placed. 

    The way seniority based hiring and pay works now, the schools you are talking about in the article are going to get all the new, less experienced or less qualified teachers.  Something EdTrust-West calls “victims of the churn”
    http://www.edtrust.org/west/publication/victims-of-the-churn-the-damaging-impact-of-california%E2%80%99s-teacher-layoff-policies-on

    Once again it’s union rules proctecting adults that are hurting low income kids.

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  7. Classic instance of the pot calling the kettle black.
     
    Duncan should also be concerned that Title I funds be targeted on schools serving the neediest kids.  Unfortunately, the Title I funding formulas include so-called “hold harmless” provisions that allow school districts serving decreasing numbers of needy students to retain their funding.  Newer schools with rapidly-expanding populations of needy students get short-changed, big time.
     
    The same thing happens at the state level, with states serving declining populations retaining funding at the expense of states with expanding needs.
     
    If Arne is going to point the finger at states and districts, he should perhaps start by cleaning his own house and fixing this huge problem in the federal Title I formulas.
     

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  8. How does Teach for America factor into this issue? Doesn’t the program design embrace placing new, high turnover teachers in schools with the greatest need?
     
    Why is a program that provides recent college grad interns (with 5 weeks of training) into high need schools is a wonderful thing, but a school that has a number of newer credentialed teachers in the same placements a bad thing.
     
    Hasn’t Duncan campaigned to end LIFO? Looks like he’s now saying that it’s not okay to place those newer teachers he champions in struggling schools.

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  9. I suspect it is largely that those schools get the newest teachers and have the highest teacher turnover.
     
    One simple change that I think would help address this is to have the pool of teachers more divided by school rather than by district. That is, financial layoffs per seniority should be by school rather than by district (which hopefully is only a temporary issue) and openings at schools should be filled by the principal rather than the district, with the principal considering inside and outside applicants rather than being obligated to take a teacher from another school in the district.
     
    But the more serious problem is that low performing schools are morale shredders for a lot of different reasons, and the current focus on “reform” is much more about finding some excuse to fire teachers than about retaining and supporting the promising ones.
     
    I mentioned in a comment the other day that if we changed our “teacher value added” testing metric to a pretest and post test on the same grade level material, that we might find that students at high performing schools already know all the grade level material when they enter, giving a net change of zero in their score, while low performing students may enter knowing none of the material such that even getting to half proficient would show substantial “value add.” That would make the teachers of the low performing students “better” than the high performers, and would still be consistent with the data. It would be interesting to test that hypothesis.

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  10. There is research about why teachers leave certain schools and, frequently, leave the profession. Of course this was prior to the recession and massive layoffs.

    The reasons most often given are: 1) lack of leadership, and 2) lack of resources needed to do their job. The shorting of funding to schools in struggling communities goes beyond just salaries. Interestingly, the difficulty of working with the kids in struggling communities is not mentioned.

    I often make the point that CA doesn’t really have a problem getting rid of teachers, it has a problem keeping teachers. PPIC did a study around 2006 indicating around one in four depart by the fourth year. The CSU system asserts CA loses nearly 1/2 a billion dollars in education and training costs in  teachers leaving the system “early.”  And CA is better off than the rest of the nation where about 50% of teachers depart by the 5th year. The CTC attributes this to CA’s superior BTSA program where experienced teachers provide the necessary “leadership.”

    This brings up an interesting point: If the self-appointed “reformers” are so concerned about students in struggling communities, and those students are shorted experienced teachers (and thereby salary dollars) why don’t they pay any attention to the indicated problems, those being, leadership and resources?

    No easy scapegoats, teachers and unions, to wag fingers at there.

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  11. Gary – I certainly place a lot of blame on powerful unions but nobody is blaming teachers.  That includes the California public – of which 62 percent (and 68% of parents) believe teachers unions deserve significant blame for the problems in public schools.  Meanwhile the public polling shows overwhelming support for teachers.  People understand the difference.

    http://toped.svefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Poll-USC-Dornsife-teachers-funding112011.pdf

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  12. Reader: The “distinction” between teachers and unions is meaningless. The union is teachers. Unions are some of the most democratic organizations in the nation. Each school has one or more site representatives elected by the teachers at the school. Those elected representatives serve on the local unions executive board where bargaining decisions are made. District contracts are subject to a vote of the entire union membership. There are state level officers, executive boards, councils, and conventions where state level decisions are made and all are composed of elected members. You are trying to separate the dancer from the dance. When the beloved classroom teacher (and I like that because I was a classroom teacher for 35 years) dislikes what the union is doing there are multiple ways to make that known, and to make changes, through a democratic process. Assuming the teacher’s colleagues agree with that position. Majority rules and all that.
     
    And by the way, can you define exactly what it is that the “powerful union” is doing to thwart education? Recall that the highest performing states in the nation (on the NAEP, the “Nation’s Report Card”) share three things: 1)they are in in the northeast quadrant of the country; 2) they have the highest density of unionized teachers; and, 3) they spend the most per child on education. So, the problem with unions  was what exactly?
     

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  13. @Gary Ravani asks “If the self-appointed “reformers” are so concerned about students in struggling communities, and those students are shorted experienced teachers (and thereby salary dollars) why don’t they pay any attention to the indicated problems, those being, leadership and resources?”
     
    Which brings us back to KSC above: Teach for America is the reformers darling, but a school district that places younger, lower paid teachers in struggling school is doing terribly wrong by kids.
     
    Why is TFA worthy of tens of millions of investment dollars, but schools employing the same strategy with their staff get held up by Arne Duncan as robbing kids?

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  14. My sense is that many teachers are excited about working with kids in struggling communities, but we hamstring them in quite a lot of ways. The first is that from the day they arrive, they are bombarded by assumptions that they are failing and doing a poor job, with no acknowledgement of the victories that are gained. A great principal with help from the community may be able to shield the teachers from that feeling somewhat.
     
    School supply budgets are absurdly tight. Growing up as a teacher’s daughter, imagine my shock when I arrived in my first workplace and there were supply cabinets where you could get whatever pens and supplies you needed, without even having to sign for them. We expect teachers to teach science and art with $2 per child for the whole year. Yes, we’ve cut those budgets because the alternatives are worse, but that doesn’t make it right.

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