Today the U.S. Senate will convene to debate amendments to the bipartisan No Child Left Behind rewrite.
The House passed its rewrite to No Child Left Behind, or the Student Success Act, last week in a 218 to 213 vote. Democrats and civil rights groups opposed it, arguing that the bill would hurt low-income students, disabled students and students of color. The president has threatened to veto it.
One of the Senate amendments that has caused particular concern among Democrats and education advocacy organizations is an amendment from North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R) that would upend the current Title I funding formula.
Instead of using four formulas, there would be one formula, which wouldn’t use state average per-pupil expenditures and instead use national per-pupil expenditures. The formula would distribute Title I funds by taking the number of poor children and multiplying it by the national per-pupil expenditure for poor children. The idea is that poor rural states with smaller populations are given short shrift in the current formula, and that a retooling of the formula would make funding more equitable.
States like New York would lose over $300 million while California would gain over $100 million. Thirty-six states would gain funding, but the amendment, if passed, would make it far more difficult for senators from losing states to justify voting for it.
Burr said in a statement last Friday, “It’s unfair for federal education spending intended for low-income children to favor children who live in certain parts of the country. When our government aims to assist children who need help, I expect that our laws will do just that. This amendment will rebalance the Title I-A formula once and for all. It’s time to end this discrimination and to do right by these kids.”
But groups opposing the bill say that it would actually help fewer children because although it reaches children in very high-poverty areas, it wouldn’t reach children who are also very poor and would benefit from funding from the federal government. An analysis by the Center for American Progress shows that about 58 percent of students would receive less funding under the Burr amendment, despite the fact that Burr has represented the new formula as more equitable. Other criticisms are that the new formula wouldn’t consider cost of living and that it doesn’t discern between states and school districts that have invested in education despite its being a poor state or district and states and school districts that spend more on education because they are wealthy and have high property taxes. That’s why leaving affluent school districts out of the formula might make more sense. A CAP report on funding formula solutions makes this important point on Title I funding:
Significant amounts of research shows that it is not just poverty that limits a student’s life outcomes; living in high-poverty areas and attending school among other poor students — in other words, concentrated poverty — have significant effects as well. It has also been shown that money has the greatest impact when it is invested in improving the education of low-income students who come to school with the greatest needs when compared to their more affluent peers. And although there are poor students in many — if not most — schools, schools serving more affluent populations have larger budgets overall.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D), Maryland Sen. Barbara (D) and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine have been very vocal in their criticisms of the amendment. Schumer stated on Friday, “I will fight this, and any amendment, tooth and nail to make sure there are no federal education cuts made on the backs of hard-working New York State students, teachers and families.”
Other amendments that may be introduced soon include Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D) amendment on student test data disaggregation and an amendment from Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk (R) that would allow for better equity of school resources and is supported by the National Education Association.
The disaggregation of data has been a focus for civil rights groups, because it would mean having a better sense of which groups are performing well on tests. Instead of looking at average student test scores, you could look at economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and English language learners separately, which would make it easier to concentrate efforts on improving student outcomes for those groups.
The Opportunity Dashboard of Core Resources amendment offered by Kirk would use data to help states identify gaps in school resources across districts and requires states to create a plan and timeline for making sure that funding and other support systems reach high-need school districts. It also includes library, art and music programs in its indicators of school resources to ensure a well-rounded education for students in high-need school districts.
Another amendment that would prove controversial, offered by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R), would try to stop federal funding from going to “sanctuary cities,” or places that have policies benefitting undocumented immigrants. Vitter has focused on blocking funding for sanctuary cities for several years now.