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A Fairer Deal on School Funds : California will benefit from change in federal distribution formula

November 07, 1994

California is cheated nearly every time Washington doles out the federal Title I education funds, which are earmarked to help students doing poorly in school. Fortunately, that distribution formula will soon become more equitable.

The antiquated funding formula, which is based on the national census every 10 years and average state spending per pupil, fails to keep pace with annual population surges fueled by high birthrates, immigration and migration in high-growth states such as California, Texas and Florida. The formula also fails to factor in the effect of the economic recession, which hit California hard, pushing more children and their parents into poverty and, often, negatively affecting their performance in school. The use of old data cost California heavily over the last decade and unfairly allowed states that lost population to hang on to more than their fair share.

The new formula, unanimously endorsed by the California congressional delegation, requires the U.S. Census Bureau, beginning in 1996, to update poverty figures every two years instead of every decade. The more frequent updates will record the regular increases of poor children who enroll in school in California, will allow a more frequent and equitable distribution of Title I funds.

Big money is at stake. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which the Senate finally managed to pass just prior to recessing last month--despite a Republican filibuster over voluntary school prayer--provides $12.7 billion to improve schools. Of that amount, $6.6 billion in Title I funds will go to help "educationally disadvantaged" children who do poorly in school. Though those children tend to be poor, many are not.

Poor children are the intended beneficiaries. Title I, after all, was created in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's ambitious war on poverty. But in practice, congressional politics dictate that nearly every American school district share in the federal government's main form of aid to schools. The Clinton Administration wants the neediest students to get more of this federal aid, as Congress and President Johnson originally intended.

California counties already get a big chunk of the Title I money. These funds are often used to provide failing students with extra help in reading and math, to purchase computers and to hire extra teachers or aides.

The state can expect to receive $729.2 million for fiscal year 1995 and an even larger share after the new distribution formula takes effect in 1996. That's only fair.

Poor children who do poorly in school tend to do poorly in life. With the new funding formula it adopted, Congress has renewed its nearly 30-year-old commitment to stem the rising tide of failure. California schools will benefit from that commitment.

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