Robin Hood in reverse
August 24, 2005
A riddle: Who has been talking a good game for forty years about equalizing resources for poor kids while creating obscure rules that do the exact opposite? Answer: Uncle Sam. Title I, the mother of all federal education programs, requires that high-poverty schools receive roughly comparable resources before adding funds from Washington. That's only fair - these dollars are meant to be extra, to compensate for the difficulties faced by poor children, to "supplement, not supplant" state and local education revenues, not to let local districts out of their funding responsibilities. But as Marguerite Roza and Paul Hill point out in their Washington Post op-ed (and their excellent study, "Strengthening Title I to Help High-Poverty Schools"), there's a glaring loophole: districts don't have to account for the vast differences in payroll between schools. Since virtually all districts budget for schools as if everyone was paid an average salary, rather than actuals, and since most urban districts face a talent drain from poor schools to more affluent ones (since teachers have seniority "bumping rights" built into union contracts - and no financial incentive to stay at tougher schools), this is no small oversight. In Houston, for example, high-poverty schools get $472 less in state and local funds than the district average. There's an easy solution: close the loophole. Listen for the howls of protest from the teachers unions, which to date have been more concerned with protecting the bumping rights of their veteran members than living up to their lofty rhetoric about equity.
"Equalizing Education Dollars," by Marguerite Roza and Paul Hill, Washington Post, August 21, 2005