Ohio is facing roughly an $8 billion deficit as it heads into a new biennium, so it should come as no surprise that Governor Strickland is lobbying for whatever federal money might be available to help fill the hole. The Buckeye State is not alone. As the New York Times reminds us, many states will see staggering deficits in their education budgets as early as the end of this school year as one-time stimulus money dries up.

Last week Strickland pushed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to approve Ohio’s Race to the Top application. On the one hand, Strickland’s effort here seems futile: Duncan alleges RttT is an apolitical competitive grant program with a “very high bar;” and there are hundreds of reviewers deciding which applications are of merit. Such a request seems a little misplaced (unless we’re in the dark and RttT awards will be based on politics).

Still, even though Ohio’s application may be less than sterling (especially as it comes to support for charter schools and school turnarounds), you can’t blame Strickland for trying to get badly needed dollars for Ohio’s schools. It is in the interest of Ohio’s children, especially the neediest among them in urban and rural schools, for the state’s leaders to advocate for more federal K-12 funds, and to capitalize on existing federal funding streams.

A recent report from Center for American Progress, Bitter Pill, Better Formula, lays out a new formula for distributing Title I, Part A funds. Title I-A is the largest elementary and secondary program operated by the federal education department and allocates funds to districts with concentrations of low-income students.

Bitter Pill makes the case for replacing the current funding mechanism with one that is simpler and fairer. While the details of the proposed Title I-A formula change are quite complex (for example, the authors explain why existing measures of states’ “fiscal effort” are incomplete and biased toward wealthy states), the rationale is simple and one that all Ohio leaders should become familiar with.

Stated simply, revising the Title I formula would not only serve low-income students better (the correlation between districts’ allocations per poor child and their actual concentration of poor kids would rise from .19 to .32 under the new formula) but would reap larger funding allocations for Ohio.

In fact, the report shows that Ohio stands to gain more than all but five other states, and estimates that Ohio’s Title I-A allocations would grow by six percent between FY2009 and FY2010 with the new formula. In FY2008, Ohio districts received $512 million in Title I-A funds; under the revised formula, then, poor children in the Buckeye State could receive approximately $30.7 million more annually.

Bitter Pill doesn’t gloss over the political challenges to revising the Title I-A formula (not all states stand to gain from it). But with painful budget cuts looming, Ohio can’t afford not to maximize any and every federal funding opportunity.

Admittedly, $31 million is pennies compared to Race to the Top’s $400 million. But Race to the Top funds are one-shot and are no panacea for states’ long-term fiscal problems; conversely, a revised Title I-A formula would result in stable annual increases for Ohio’s poorest students, and with no costly requirements attached.

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