The Biggest Losers in the No Child Left Behind Rewrite

Rural school districts and states with large, rural populations are poised to lose a disproportionate amount of funding and opportunities to innovate under a bill proposed by House Republicans, according to a report by the Obama administration.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at an on-the-record breakfast with reporters Monday morning to further detail his concerns with the bill, which would rewrite No Child Left Behind, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Duncan and the White House have been vocal opponents to the proposed bill, which faces a House vote on Friday.

Rural Colorado’s Edison School has big technological ambitions, despite the fact that many of its students still lack internet access at home.

One of the major sticking points of rewrite is the proposed amount of spending, which a White House report released this month referred to as “effectively locking in sequestration-era cuts for the rest of the decade.” The bill would cap spending on ESEA at $800 million lower than 2012 and according to the report, would allocate $7 billion less in Title I funds over six years than President Obama’s budget.

“If you look at the numbers its a pretty devastating portrait of what this thing might do,” Duncan said in reference to the White House report, which also details the amount of funding that individual school districts are expected to lose as a result of the cuts.

The recent White House report mostly focused on large, urban districts like the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Chicago Public School District, which are poised to lose more than $80 million and $64 million respectively, or about 24 percent of their 2014 estimated Title I allocations. New data related to the White House report released Tuesday found that many of these large school districts poised to lose funding serve largely black or Hispanic populations.

But according to the previous report, some rural districts will lose even higher percentages of their Title I funding. Nationwide, nearly 50 percent of school districts are small and rural, and 20 percent of students in the country attend those schools. Rural schools are also serving an increasing number of low-income and minority students, according to the Rural School and Community Trust.

In Mississippi, where more than 56 percent of students attend rural schools, Title I funding could be cut by $7 million, with the largest cuts taking place in five high-poverty Mississippi Delta districts. The Delta’s Coahoma County School District, for instance, would see a 50 percent reduction of its Title I funding. In Alaska, the rural Iditarod Area School District would see a nearly 63 percent decrease in funding. Hatch Valley Municipal Schools in New Mexico is estimated to see a nearly 44 percent decrease.

Supporters of the bill say it the rewrite is needed to curtail the federal government’s role in education. The bill repeals certain aspects of ESEA, such as requirements for how much states and school districts must spend before receiving federal funding, and eliminating more than 65 federal education programs. “Continuing to leave students, states, and school districts tied to a failing law is unacceptable,” said Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican of Indiana, in a statement earlier this month. “This bill is designed to restore educational control to its proper place and reduce the federal government’s intrusion into our classrooms.”

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 At Monday’s breakfast, Duncan cautioned that rural districts in particular stand to lose out due to these eliminations. He also argued that the bill should include funding for early childhood education, which “is desperately important on the rural side.”

Also missing from the bill, Duncan said, is a commitment to programs that encourage innovation, like Promise Neighborhoods, a program that replicated ideas from the Harlem Children’s Zone in school districts around the country, or the Investing in Innovation i3 grant. “A lot of what we’ve done on the innovation piece has been in rural communities,” Duncan said. Because of the small size of many rural districts, launching innovative programs such as early-college initiatives in rural North Carolina or efforts to expand access to Advanced Placement courses in rural Tennessee is “impossible,” he added. “Those are the kinds of things that would be taken away from rural districts that are trying to challenge the status quo and get better.”

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Jackie Mader

Jackie Mader received a bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University and an M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a recipient of the 2012 Fred M. Hechinger Journalism Education Award. Prior to attending Columbia, she taught special education in Charlotte, N.C. and trained first-year teachers in the Mississippi Delta.