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Legal Analysis Supports the Education Department’s Funding Regulation

Attorneys at WilmerHale conducted a legal review of the Education Department's proposed regulation on Title I disbursements. According to the Washington Post, the regulation would require school districts to “show they are spending a roughly equivalent number of state and local dollars per pupil in high-poverty schools as in more-affluent schools.” The group’s analysis found that the Department’s “approach is fully consistent with the ESEA’s and ESSA’s clear purpose to promote educational equity, and ED has ample legal authority to adopt it.”

The Title I program provides federal funds to school districts with a high number or percentage of economically disadvantaged students to ensure that these students have access to the same educational opportunities afforded to wealthier students.

As Post reporter Emma Brown points out, federal law prohibits school districts from “underfund[ing] schools in poor neighborhoods and then us[ing] federal Title I dollars to fill the hole.” However, the proposal has sparked an intense political and legal debate because it introduces a set spending threshold on individual students that school districts must meet.

Critics contend that the proposal constitutes an overreach on the part of the Obama administration. In a letter to Education Secretary John B. King, Jr., Senator Lamar Alexander and 24 other Republican law makers wrote that the Every Student Succeeds Act “never required, nor is it intended to require, equity or fairness in the allocation of state and local education dollars.” Opponents of the proposal not only include Republican members of the House and Senate, but also teacher unions and state education officials who voice concern over its impracticality.

For the Education Department, the regulation aims to address the resource and funding inequalities preventing students that attend high-poverty schools from being provided with the same quality education as students from more-affluent schools. Hence, the Department’s framing of the proposal as a way to “fulfill the civil rights intent of the law.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights requested the analysis in an effort "to bring an end to the debate about whether the Education Department’s approach is legal and create more space for debate over the substance of the policy." However, these findings seem unlikely to quell objections from various opponents of the proposal.

Richard Conklin, Editor


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