Title I: Explained

nations capital policy title I

“Title I” is a ubiquitous term in education circles. People understand that it has to do with students of low socioeconomic status, but not much after that.
So, where did it come from? Title I gets its name from being the first section of the comprehensive Elementary and Secondary Education Act passed by Congress and signed by President Johnson in 1965. The bones of the law have stayed mostly intact since then, even if the periodic reauthorizations came under different names—the current version of the ESEA is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the previous version was the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. 

The formula

In order for a school to be eligible for Title I funds, 40% of its students must be classified as low-income by the United States Census. Both public and private schools may qualify. Over 50% of the nation’s schools qualify for Title I funds.

Funds are first given to each state’s education agency, which then distributes the funds to districts. The money each state receives is proportionate to the number of schools that qualify. The number is derived quite simply: Title I assumes that it costs 40% more to educate a low-income student. Each authorization given to a state is 40% more than the state spends on per-pupil costs.

The Every Student Succeeds reauthorization dictated how much the total distribution would be for the next five years, although that full disbursement is never met by the congressional budget. Title I is often one of the first places where Congress looks for cuts during budget negotiations.

The target disbursements are:

  • FY 2017: $15 billion

  • FY 2018: $15.5 billion

  • FY 2019: $15.9 billion

  • FY 2020: $16.2 billion

 Title I is by far the largest source of federal money for schools.

How money can be spent

Title I funds should be spent to improve the education of low-income, disabled, disadvantaged, and immigrant students. Schools have to identify and justify their methods to their districts before receiving their money; Title I is not a “blank check.”

The first type of assistance provided through Title I funds is schoolwide programs. With this approach, a Title I school funds an initiative designed to improve the education outcomes of all the school’s students, not just the disadvantaged. An example of a schoolwide program would be an academic after-school program that extends the school day. Recently, schools have sought to establish schoolwide programs that leverage technology, such as by buying devices or starting computer science programs.

The second type of assistance is a targeted assistance program designed to affect each disadvantaged student at the school. An example would be hiring intensive reading teachers who would operate a pull-out program for identified students.

In both cases, programs need to be justified to the district, although the level of scrutiny can vary between districts and states. As educational trends come and go, schools and districts often try to raid their Title I funds to fund initiatives.

The “carrot”

Title I funding, being the largest source of federal education money, is often used by the Department of Education to enact the reforms it would like to see states undertake. For example, during No Child Left Behind, a state could not receive Title I money without agreeing to a rigorous assessment system for students, schools, districts, and teachers.

Although ESSA is viewed as more lenient than NCLB, states still need to adopt “challenging state academic standards,” special standards for English language proficiency, and yearly assessments that identify individual student subgroups, as well as maintain a statewide system of accountability for schools and districts.

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