On Wednesday, Rep. John Kline’s (R-MN) laid out a vision for elementary and secondary education. Kline’s bill can be summed up in two words: block grants. Under current law, traditionally underserved students have dedicated federal funding streams with mechanisms in place to ensure that the money gets spent on them. His bill rolls these separate funds into Title I and gives money to states with virtually no strings attached, eliminating key protections and targeted resources for low-income students, English language learners, and neglected and delinquent students. This is a significant setback for students who were already facing fiscal and resource inequities.
The bill also eliminates the maintenance of effort, or MOE, provision. MOE requires states and districts to “maintain” their own funding levels at amounts that are similar to what they spent in the previous year. Kline’s change means that states and districts could reduce their year-to-year nonfederal education spending by any amount without incurring any penalties. Removing MOE will make it easier for states and districts to make cuts to their budgets and provides schools with unstable annual funding.
Kline’s bill came after Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) released his own version last month. And similar to the Alexander bill, Kline’s proposal eliminates the targeting of federal dollars to schools and districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students. Known as portability, this so-called flexibility actually undermines the goal of Title I, which is to provide schools with high concentrations of poverty with additional funds to serve their students.
Under portability, low-income schools would lose much-needed funds to serve their students. Simply put, funds would flow out of the neediest schools and in some cases into schools with almost entirely affluent students. In fact, new analysis has found that nationally, the neediest districts could lose as much as $85 per student while affluent districts could gain more than $290 per student, on average.
But perhaps what is most egregious in Kline’s proposal is not what’s in it, but what isn’t. He misses a once-in-a-15-year opportunity to fix the unfair Title I formula. Currently, it doesn’t take into account state capacity to provide more funds to the districts with the greatest needs, which ends up leaving schools that need the most help without enough funds needed to serve their students. Instead, he keepsthese nonsensical formulas that aren’t targeted enough to schools that serve large numbers of low-income students. But according to an updated analysis by the Center for American Progress, there’s a way to solve this problem so that more funds are distributed to the states and districts that need them the most.
He also decided not to include funds to expand high-quality early childhood education to low-income children. Decades of research have proven that early learning is what gives low-income children a strong start. It’s an intervention that improves long-term outcomes for disadvantaged students and sets them up for success throughout life. Any reauthorized education bill must include a major investment in high-quality early childhood education to ensure that it becomes accessible to hundreds of thousands of additional children.
Just like Alexander’s proposal, Kline’s bill is bad for this country’s most disadvantaged students and will make it that much harder for them to be well prepared for academic and future success.