Why teachers like me support Secretary King’s proposed Title I rules
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Last December, after years of delays and gridlock, Congress stepped up and passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bipartisan bill outlining the federal role in education policy going forward. Ever since the President signed ESSA into law, education advocates have wondered whether the legislation will indeed ensure that every student succeeds. That debate will continue this week, when the U.S. House Subcommittee discusses the Department’s proposed Title I spending rules under ESSA. Teachers like me will be watching  closely and hoping that Title I funds meant to supplement budgets in high-poverty schools will get what they deserve under law.

As a classroom teacher with more than a decade of experience teaching in high-poverty schools, I firmly believe that teachers need to have a voice in how ESSA is implemented in schools. And after gathering last fall with a team of teachers from across the country to create recommendations for the new federal education law, one thing was crystal clear to me: more than anything, my colleagues and I are focused on ensuring that ESSA lives up to its promise, with resources going to the students who need them most, so that all students have access to educational opportunity. This is why we support the Department’s unwavering commitment to the original purpose of Title I dollars: funding high-needs schools equitably.

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While more than fifty years have passed since President Johnson passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as part of his War on Poverty, a broad range of statistics show that significant opportunity gaps persist between schools predominantly serving students from low-income families compared with those serving students from better-resourced homes. For example, students in low-poverty schools are twice as likely to have access to a full range of math and science courses compared to their peers in high-poverty schools. Students in low-poverty schools are also more than twice as likely to have more experienced teachers, while their peers in high-poverty schools are taught by novice educators in their first or second year of teaching.

The Department of Education has proposed regulations on Title I that could help close the opportunity gap by ensuring that the highest need students receive these funds in addition to local and state funding. While more than 90 percent of districts already make sure that their Title I schools receive at least as much state and local funding per student as their non-Title I schools, 5,750 Title I schools nationwide received substantially less than their non-Title I peers within the same district. This underfunding of state and local resources totals $2 billion annually.

Opponents say the Department of Education has overstepped by calling for an end to this practice of underfunding students in Title I schools, arguing that some who voted for ESSA only intended to make spending at the school level more transparent. But teachers know all too well the true cost of leaving these gross inequities to be addressed another day. Students in our high poverty schools cannot afford to wait another fifty years for our leaders in Washington to finally get this right, especially when a common-sense solution with flexibility has been presented.

Throughout this process, leaders and elected officials need to remember that students are the stakeholder group that matters most, and we need to ensure the creation of policies that hold schools accountable for serving all students well. Funds that supplement, not supplant, state and local dollars for high-poverty schools are key to ensuring this legislation lives up to its name: the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Ben Mackenzie teaches ninth-grade English Language Arts at Hiawatha Collegiate High School in Minneapolis, Minn. He is a teacher leader for Educators 4 Excellence-Minnesota and a member of the E4E National Teacher Action Team for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.