Greensboro — To help offset the effects of poverty on students at Murphey Traditional Academy, Principal Cheryl Beeson invests in people — such as extra teachers, tutors, reading specialists and a social worker.
The investment in extra educators takes Title I money — supplemental federal dollars targeted to high-poverty schools like Murphey. That is money that education officials say could be deeply cut if a bill moving through the U.S. House of Representatives becomes law. The House is expected to take up the bill, House Resolution 5, Friday.
“We count on those funds to be able to put more adults into the lives of children of poverty,” according to Beeson, who said low-income students often start school behind in literacy and unfamiliar with the learning
environment. “We need more positive role models. We need to decrease the class size.”
Murphey, where more than 62 percent of students come from low-income families, is one of 67 schools in Guilford County Schools that receive the federal aid.
The school system could lose about $1.7 million for its high-poverty schools if HR 5 becomes law, according to a recent report from President Barack Obama’s administration.
North Carolina could lose about $17 million. Or, over the next six years, the state could lose about $220 million, according to the Obama administration’s report.
Those are worst-case scenario numbers. The Obama administration’s report compares appropriations in HR 5 with appropriations in the president’s proposed budget, which is unlikely to be fully realized as is.
Proponents of the bill said it would shrink federal overreach and restore local control of schools. They said it would give parents more school-choice options and more information about how schools and teachers perform.
But a major complaint for opponents is that the bill would leech money from high-poverty, high-minority schools to the benefit of wealthier ones.
The bill would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind. The bill also would authorize appropriations for the next six years, from 2016 to 2021, including Title I money. Title I is the largest program of that act.
There’s a lot more in HR 5. It would remove the requirement that schools and school systems face corrective action if they don’t meet prescribed annual growth goals on academic tests. It would prohibit the U.S. education secretary from forcing or influencing the adoption of certain academic standards such as Common Core.
But the bill also would cap K-12 education spending at $800 million, or pre-Recession levels, according to the Obama administration’s report.
The bill would remove the requirement that Title I money be targeted to schools and school systems with high concentrations of poverty.
That idea of Title I portability — allowing the money to follow a student to a different public school, even if it is a wealthier one — is particularly contentious.
That’s what U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday morning, called “reverse Robin Hood.”
“You’re stealing from the poor to give to the rich,” Duncan said, according to a transcript of that call. “And we have no problem with a poor child going to any school district, but we need to make sure resources aren’t flowing out of poor districts towards wealthier districts where there’s generally much higher per-pupil funding, more access to (Advanced Placement) classes, more access to technology.”
In a news release last week, officials with Guilford County Schools responded to a report from the Council of the Great City Schools that estimated urban school systems like Guilford, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Wake County could lose $615 million in Title I money under HR 5.
“Title I funds in our district area already spread out rather thinly over 67 schools,” Sandra Alexander, a member of the Guilford County Board of Education, said in the news release. “Transferring part of what funds remain after the current allocation to more affluent schools will leave poverty schools with even less to work with.”
Murphey has depended on Title I money for a long time, Beeson said.
At Murphey, the poverty rate is high enough that students automatically receive free breakfast and lunch. But there are some needs that even the Title I money can’t cover.
Each Friday, a nonprofit group sends bags of food home with about 45 Murphey students who otherwise might not get to eat. Students didn’t receive that food last week, when Guilford schools stayed closed for four days because of weather-related concerns.
Beeson said she knows some students were hungry when they returned to school on Monday.
Dangerous winter weather could mean more school closings next week. It’s also the end of the month, when some families’ finances might be tapped out.
Some students asked Wednesday if they could get the bags of food early, Beeson said. But the nonprofit group hadn’t prepared the bags yet.