Education Secretary John B. King Jr. has championed the regulation as a way of improving education for low-income students by requiring school districts spend the same amount of state and local dollars at their low-income schools as they do at higher-income schools.
An Education Department study in 2011 found many low-income schools were receiving less in per-pupil funding than their higher-income counterparts in the same district.
The department says that 3.3 million of the nation’s 50 million public-school students attend low-income schools that receive less money per pupil than higher-income schools in the same district. As a result, the department says, nearly 6,000 low-income schools “are shortchanged by about $440,000 a year.”
In announcing the proposal in August, King called it “an important step forward to advancing resource equity across the country.” King also urged districts and states to comply with the regulation “by providing additional funds for education focused on high-needs schools, not by shifting dollars around or forcing transfers of teachers or other personnel.”
The regulation interprets a small section of a 400-page education law enacted in December 2015 whose main goal is to increase local control over education standards, school curriculums and standardized testing.
The law was sponsored by Sen. Alexander and received broad bipartisan support. It reverses parts of the No Child Left Behind Act, and requires, for example, that states consider more than just test scores in evaluating schools.
The section of the 2015 act currently in question concerns the longstanding policy that requires school districts to use Title I education funds only to supplement state and local funding and not in place of those funds. Until now, the policy has stopped short of requiring school districts to spend the same money per pupil in Title I schools and in non-Title I schools.
The Education Department has said that 90 percent of the nation’s school districts do not have substantial funding disparities between low-income and high-income schools, and would not need to adjust funding.
But Gordon, the Georgetown expert, said the new rule would affect even those school districts that do not need to make immediate funding changes.
“Anything they’re thinking about doing, like opening a special arts program in a school, they would need to make sure they’re still in compliance,” Gordon said. “It really could inhibit innovation in districts because they’d worry about falling out of compliance.”