Title I, Part A (Title I) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended (ESEA) provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards. Federal funds are currently allocated through four statutory formulas that are based primarily on census poverty estimates and the cost of education in each state.
A quick image search on Google turns up a logo that proclaims, "Proud to be a Title I School". But that's not something of which I am proud. It may even indicate that we are losing our battle, that we are not preparing our students for success outside of the school day.
I want to make a couple of things perfectly clear:
- Students who live in financially-challenged households are no less in value than more affluent ones. Money does not build character, and in fact more of it can tarnish a person's attitude in not handled with humility. Students of every background can succeed in our schools, and we must consistently fight against the concept that poorer kids are less capable.
- I am not interested in putting the blame on parents. We have many parents who are working multiple jobs to make ends meet and many who sacrifice to provide for their children. In a way, our system (which only partially involves the education community) failed those parents, and the blame cannot rest solely on their shoulders.
- I do not prefer that we let families flail helplessly. While there is sometimes great pain in climbing, it is the pain that helps us confirm that we are still alive and that we must not ever quit pulling ourselves up. If that means we must provide support for those climbers, then so be it. We may even be "morally obligated" to give them a boost when necessary.
- We have certainly benefited from Title I funding in our school, and have experienced success with the provisions that have been awarded to our school because of Title I. I do not wish to imply that I am against Title I, but that I dislike the mindset that often accompanies it.
Without Title I funding, what would our school lose? What would we gain? Assuming that the loss of this funding means more families have climbed out of their low-income status, perhaps these lists give us some ideas:
Educators sometimes have a tendency to get stuck in a rut. We tend to see that money as a prize, rather than what it is intended to be - a hand up. We tend to long for the extra funding, all the while ignoring that our community has to be "disadvantaged" for us to qualify for the funding. The opportunities are endless, but we must not wallow. Title I was not designed to be a reward for an impoverished community, but as an attempt to fix a complicated state of disadvantage. It is not an acknowledgment of accomplishment, but of struggle.
When I look at the short list of losses above I see more things, more stuff, more material items - more of the things we buy to try to fix something that is broken. But when I study the gains, I notice humanity; I see human spirit and accomplishment. In which column do we wish to find ourselves?
It's quite the conundrum, but I don't want to be stuck in that rut. I would love to see our district and others teach and nurture themselves out of poverty, no matter how generational or how deeply dug in we have become. I long not for Title I funds, but for my students too grow up to be independent and self-sufficient, while also expressing philanthropy and empathy to the people around them. I want my community to thrive. Just as we parent to raise children who will no longer need us when we are gone, so shall we teach so our students will continue to grow intellectually and socially without us.