Clinton Calls for Funds for Poor Schools : Education: Proposal would redirect money to narrow gap with rich districts. Federal aid to low-income districts in California would rise 14%.
The Clinton Administration proposed legislation Tuesday that would narrow the gap between rich and poor schools by redirecting federal education aid to give a greater share to poor districts.
The Improving America’s Schools Act of 1993 also would increase federal funding to poor schools to $7 billion in fiscal 1995, an 11% increase from fiscal 1994, and would refocus existing programs to ensure that children from low-income families are encouraged to meet the same academic standards now expected of middle-class children.
The proposal would restructure the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was established in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and was the first federal program intended to support school districts in low-income areas.
Education officials said that the shift in funding is necessary because many poor schools are not receiving federal aid.
In general, big city school systems nationwide would receive sizable increases, as would poor rural counties. The big losers would be wealthier suburban communities and some whole states, such as Maine and Iowa, that have comparatively strong financial support from other sources.
In California, federal aid to poor schools would increase 14% under the bill, though the percentage varies from county to county depending on community wealth. In Southern California, Los Angeles County funds would jump 16.4% above 1994 levels. Other increases are 6.8% for Orange County schools, 9% in Ventura County and 11.6% in San Diego County.
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said that the measure is necessary because the United States cannot afford to “dumb down another generation” by setting low standards for poor children, as it has for decades.
“Expectations of what poor children can learn have decreased so much that we are in danger of creating a new form of class division based on access and educational opportunity,” Riley said. It “is President Clinton’s clear statement that we will not forsake the children of America.”
Riley conceded that, while the measure can improve educational opportunities for low-income children, it does not level out the disparities between rich and poor schools. “It will do an awful lot but it will not do enough,” he said. States and local communities will also have to help, he said.
Currently, two-thirds of all public schools receive money through Chapter 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But the funds are not necessarily going to the neediest districts.
For instance, Chapter 1 money now goes to almost half of the schools in America that have enrollments of just 10% low-income students, while many schools with low-income enrollments of more than 75% receive no Chapter 1 funds.
Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that he likes the philosophy behind the Administration’s latest initiative because it negates the long-held practice of teaching poor children watered-down curriculum.
“We don’t provide these kids the opportunity to learn real stuff,” Shanker said. “The result has been they cannot read, write and deal with numbers well enough to be able to function in decent jobs.”
The Administration’s proposal also sets up a system to funnel federal money to help make the most dangerous schools safe and to offer training courses for teachers in high poverty areas.
The proposal also would provide schools with greater flexibility in using their federal dollars.
Under existing legislation, if less than 75% of the enrollment qualifies as poor, school administrators use the federal money only for those children who qualify. If more than 75% of the students are poor, the money can be spent throughout the school.
The new law would eventually drop that threshold from 75% to 55%.