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Federal education act needs revision

The effects of sequestration — a process which, like global warming, may or may not exist depending on your political slant — continue to be felt.

Texas school districts were alerted recently of an estimated 5 percent reduction in most federal education programs as a result of sequestration and other factors and told that the reduction would be reflected in 2013-14 school year allocations.

Locally, Denton school officials are projecting a 15 percent reduction in Title I funding for the 2013-14 school year.

Chris Shade, director of school improvement and support, who oversees the district’s federal programs, told trustees at a board meeting last week that Title I funds allocated to Denton are projected to total more than $2.1 million for the 2013-14 year — a projected reduction of nearly $379,000.

Title I funds are allocated to the district for at-risk students. Denton plans to use its funds in 2013-14 to support 11 elementary schools where 40 percent or more of the students are eligible, Shade said. Funding allocated to the individual campuses is generally used to support professional development, supplies, materials, supplemental planning and support and salaries, but the projected allotment for the 2013-14 school year won’t cover much more than salaries for Title I instructors, he added.

Title I funds are distributed by the U.S. Department of Education to states, which then disburse funds to individual school districts.

According to Texas Education Agency officials, the state is projected to receive more than $1.3 billion in Title I dollars for the 2013-14 school year. The funding for next school year reflects a reduction of about 5.57 percent, TEA officials say, and the reduction is a result of “fewer poor children and sequestration.”

Under provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, all public schools and school districts are evaluated in the areas of mathematics and reading/English-language arts and either the graduation rate at the district and high school levels or attendance rate. The evaluation is known as Adequate Yearly Progress.

Districts and schools receiving Title I funds that fail to meet AYP standards for two or more consecutive years must enter the school improvement program and are subject to sanctions, including offering students the option to transfer to a school that meets the standards. Title I funds allocated to the district must be set aside for tutoring and transporting students to a school that meets AYP standards.

Board President Charles Stafford called No Child Left Behind “a broken system” that should have been reauthorized years ago.

“It’s very frustrating to have such a dysfunctional Congress that this really broken accountability system has been allowed to continue without being rewritten,” Stafford said. “‘No Child’ was a good idea, but everyone agreed it was supposed to be reworked, revisited seven years ago.”

We agree. No Child Left Behind was designed to close achievement gaps between students from various ethnicities and backgrounds by requiring greater accountability and offering increased flexibility and choice.

But that was several years ago, and we believe it’s time for Congress to get its act together and revise the system. Forcing school districts to deal with funding cuts based on outmoded standards and programs is counterproductive and hurts — rather than helps — efforts to improve education for all students.