Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why the Education Department’s New Equity Rule Might Not Be So Equal - The Atlantic

Why the Education Department’s New Equity Rule Might Not Be So Equal - The Atlantic:

Why the Education Department’s New Equity Rule Might Not Be So Equal

Teachers and the Obama administration are divided over what the federal government’s role should be in telling districts how to fund their schools.

When Congress reauthorized the United States’s federal education law last year, few observers were interested in changes to a technical part of the legislation known as “supplement not supplant.” A wonky fiscal rule that has been around for decades, it’s intended to make sure schools with high numbers of poor children don’t get less state and local money because of their participation in Title I, a federal program that provides extra money to help academically struggling students from high-poverty areas.
Instead, public reaction focused on testing requirements and generally characterized the new law—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—as returning power to the states. But ESSA made an important change to “supplement not supplant,” requiring school districts to explain how they distribute funds across their schools, and to show that they do not give fewer state and local funds to schools because they get extra federal money under their Title I status. This is a major departure from the previous rule, which allowed districts to comply simply by showing that they used Title I money to support “extra” purchases, regardless of how state and local funds were distributed across schools. Now the U.S. Department of Education is regulating this part of the law, and it’s turned into a political firestorm.

 Media coverage has framed the debate in stark terms, with those who care about civil rights and poor children on the side of the Education Department opposed by the strange bedfellows of Senate Republicans protesting executive overreach, teachers’ unions who want to protect seniority-based pay-scales and tenure, and state and district leaders seeking to avoid the administrative hassle of overhauling their budgeting and staffing. What's missing from the story is a deeper dive into what steps districts might have to take to meet the Education Department’s proposed rule, and how those actions could negatively affect school quality for the very students the rule aims to help.

As mandated by the law, the department conducted negotiated rulemaking this spring, where education administrators, school leaders and teachers, and civil-rights groups attempted to hash out implementation of the new “supplement not supplant” rule. The department proposed requiring school districts to spend at least as much in each Title I school (those with high percentages of poor students) as they do on average in their non-Title I schools—and to require these calculations in actual dollars, rather than in staffing allocations. In other words, instead of districts being able to show that every school received one teacher for, say, 25 students, they would have to show that the actual dollar amount going to the schools is the same.
Ultimately negotiators could not reach a consensus, so the department will write the rule itself, and is expected to submit a draft rule for Congressional comment soon. A department official wrote in an email that the department views the proposed rule as essential to overcoming local funding disparities it views as undermining "the intent of federal title I dollars, which are supposed to provide supplemental resources for high poverty schools, not to fill in shortfalls in state and local funding."  
On the surface, the proposed rule sounds like a win for poor kids. As my Georgetown University colleague Marguerite Roza shows in an Education Trust report, school districts often spend fewer dollars per pupil in their higher-poverty schools. The rule aims to end this pattern. However, the practical and policy implications are far less straightforward than they first appear.Why the Education Department’s New Equity Rule Might Not Be So Equal - The Atlantic:

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