01 February 2010

Undercounting may cheat poor children in Memphis out of federal funds.

Title I funds provide federal support to schools with high percentages of poor children. Districts also have the option of targeting Title I funds to pre-school programs designed to support the optimal early development of at-risk children. The formula used to apportion Title I funding is based on the child poverty rate in a district relative to other states and districts. The result of this formula is that a state could experience both an increase in child poverty and a decrease in Title I funding (if poverty rates in other states rise more rapidly).

The New America Foundation has an easily navigable web feature that allows users to type in their school districts and see 2007 funding statistics, 2009 allocation estimates, student enrollment, student demographics, and poverty percentages. Users can also compare their school district with other districts within the state; as well as with state and national averages.

The New America Foundation’s calculator paints a disturbing picture of the well-being of children in Memphis and Tennessee. The rate of student poverty in Tennessee is 50 percent higher than the national average of 13.2 percent. As we would expect, the share of Memphis City School (MCS) children in poverty is another 30 percent higher than the state average, and double the national average. Even more disturbing for policy-makers, the federal statistics used in the foundation’s calculator undercount the share of poor students in Memphis by 12 percent. (According to Department of Education figures, 70.8 percent of MCS students are eligible for free and reduced price lunch, while MCS reports that 81 percent of students are actually eligible for the school lunch program).

No comments: