This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Protesting in schoolyards and at School Reform Commission (SRC) meetings, parents have been voicing their concerns about Title I funds. Members of the community group ACORN are calling for more funding from the federal government, while other parents are disputing the District’s methods for distributing the Title I funds it already receives.
Title I is the largest single program of federal aid for elementary and secondary education. Through Title I, extra funds are given to school districts serving low-income families. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB), more strings have been attached to the Title I funds than ever before.
At a rally outside of McDaniel School on April 24, dozens of ACORN members protested President Bush’s decision to reduce by $6 billion the amount of funding for NCLB he had originally promised.
Carol Hemingway, ACORN Pennsylvania president, said the legislation’s demands have not been adequately matched with the funding necessary to accomplish them. "Why set accountability standards for student test scores, teacher certification, and paraprofessional training, only to cap the money to fund them?" she asked.
Jerry Jordan, vice president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said that NCLB’s accountability provisions were impossible for any school in Philadelphia to meet. "No Child Left Behind is legislation that leaves every child behind," Jordan declared.
Meanwhile, POWER, a recently formed parent coalition, brought signs and strong words to an SRC meeting in April. The parents were protesting the District’s decision to reallocate the Title I funds dispersed to individual schools, which has resulted in some schools dealing with severe budget cuts for next year.
The District allocates Title I funds, schools’ primary source of discretionary money, based on the number of children in poverty enrolled at individual schools.
But regardless of poverty levels, all schools in the District receive a base amount of Title I funding; schools with high poverty levels receive funding far above the base. This year the base amount was $75,000. For elementary schools, the amount was dramatically raised to $250,000 for next school year, even though the overall pot of Title I funds didn’t grow to accommodate the new base amount.
Dozens of schools with the District’s lowest poverty levels have seen their Title I funding increase to $250,000, while high-poverty schools are losing equal or greater amounts of Title I funds.
CEO Paul Vallas says the new formula ensures that no school will lose more than 25 percent of its Title I funding next year. He says the changes will stabilize Title I funding for future years and distribute the funds more equitably across the District. Valles also expects schools to get additional Title I funds this spring.
At the April SRC meeting, while coalition members held signs that said, "Inequity will not be tolerated," POWER member Dwayne Ming said the new policy will have a negative impact on schools serving large numbers of students of color and poor students.
"Our schools have been underfunded for years, and this will leave our schools with even fewer resources," said Ming. "We believe this is criminal, that it is illegal."
For more information about ACORN, call 215-765-0042. For more information about POWER, call 215-778-8728.