The School Board’s new formula for distributing federal Title I funds focuses entirely on the poverty level of a school’s student population, not its neighborhood. It also broadens the definition of poverty in a way that includes more Hispanics. And it seeks to minimize wide variations in funding from one school year to the next.
Under the old formula, a school’s poverty rate was determined by a combination of two factors: the number of children in the school who were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches and the number of children in the surrounding community whose parents received Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits. Each factor was given equal weight.
Under the new formula, a school’s AFDC count is based on its student enrollment, not the neighborhood. As a result, schools that are located in high-poverty communities but enroll relatively few low-income students (mainly magnet schools) no longer receive Title I funds. On the flip side, schools with large proportions of low-income students that are located in better-off communities now are eligible.
Also, the new formula favors free-lunch counts over AFDC counts, 60 percent to 40 percent. Proponents of this modification argue that free-lunch counts are more likely to include students from low-income households that choose not to apply for public aid or, due to immigration status, do not qualify.
Finally, the new formula eliminates one factor that brought substantial increases or decreases to schools as their poverty rates fluctuated from one year to the next. Under the old formula, there were three levels of funding: Schools with a poverty rate of at least 75 percent got $829 per low-income student; those with 58.5 percent to 74 percent got $593, and those with 54 percent to 58.4 percent got $296. Thus, a school that went from 75 percent to 74 percent could lose well over $100,000.
The new formula establishes a sliding scale: For every 1 percent increase in a school’s poverty rate, the per-pupil rate jumps $15. It begins at $300 per pupil for schools with a poverty rating of 56 percent and climbs to $900 for schools with a poverty rating of at least 94 percent.
The reason for the scale is that schools with higher concentrations of poverty are deemed to need more money to produce the same academic results as schools with fewer poor students.