For Immediate Release
More Equity and Less Red Tape
Rethinking the Comparability and Compliance Provisions in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
WASHINGTON - The Center for American Progress released a report today by Senior Fellow Robert Gordon
titled, "More Equity and Less Red Tape: Rethinking the Comparability
and Compliance Provisions in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is the largest
federal program that provides support for poor students. Important
Title I provisions aim to ensure that funds are spent on poor children
and that districts fairly serve poor schools.
Yet, as implemented today, these provisions do little to make
funding fairer, and they impose significant red tape on districts and
schools. This is especially troubling given the thrust of the No Child
Left Behind Act. If the federal government is going to ask high-poverty
schools to succeed in educating poor children, then it needs to make
sure those schools get a fair share of resources. And if it is going to
make strong demands for results, then it needs to give school districts
the flexibility to achieve them. The federal government cannot tell
school systems to achieve great things and then tie their hands about
how to do it, or consume their energies in endless bean-counting
The combination of thick red tape and thin equity in Title I today
suggests a possible reform: demand greater fairness in the allocation
of state and local dollars, but then offer greater freedom about how
federal dollars are spent. Congress could tighten the "comparability"
requirement in current law, which should drive equity, but doesn't. It
should at the same time weaken or eliminate the "supplement, not
supplant" requirement, which creates needless red tape and shouldn't.
The next administration could also relax some of the regulatory
bookkeeping requirements that add to districts' burdens without
improving educational quality.
This tradeoff would increase the pressure for equity, but on its
face, it would reduce the demands for compliance. One question that
would remain is whether a more aggressive comparability requirement,
focused on dollars rather than "services," would cause a new set of
administrative and political headaches. Beefing up comparability should
not create the heavy-handed mandates that eliminating "supplement, not
supplant" aimed to take away. Without surveying all the design
challenges regarding comparability, the paper concludes with some
recommendations for how a stronger comparability provision could be
managed on the ground.
The paper aims to stir further debate about arcane but critical aspects of federal education law.
Read the full report (pdf)