Congressional attempts in the last few years to allow states to divert their Title I funds through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into vouchers that would follow individual poor students to the public or private schools of their choice—Title I “portability”—were unsuccessful. Such vouchers are now a far more politically realistic possibility, given a $1 billion proposal in President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget.
FutureEd Research Adviser Nora Gordon explores how Current Title I rules allow school districts to concentrate their federal funds in their poorest schools, while under a portability state option, school districts would be forced to distribute those funds uniformly per poor pupil. This shift in allocation rules means that portability would affect the distribution of funds not only across districts, but also within them—and that this shift would happen among public schools even in districts where few, if any, students chose to take Title I funds to private schools.
The basic concept of making federal funds “portable” is often explained with the analogy of putting the federal cash into a student’s backpack that moves with the student to whatever school he or she attends, public or private. As with any school finance policy, however, the specific details of any portability proposal would be critical. Absent an unlikely considerable influx of new federal funds, portability would fill students’ backpacks using at least in part cash that used to be appropriated to school districts through Title I funds.