National Title One conference opens in Tampa

01/31/11 Kate Bradshaw
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As schools nationwide face tough budget challenges at every level, the question of how to adequately fund classrooms looms large. Today marks the start of a national conference of educators from disadvantaged schools from across the nation.

Thousands of educators from all over the country assembled at the Tampa Convention Center to hear the words of Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana. She’s Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secretary Education at the US Department of Education.

Melendez stressed the need for reform as well as well as adequate education for those not fortunate enough to be going to school in an affluent district.

Title One is a federal grant program that’s almost 46 years old. It’s a provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as No Child Left Behind, and is the most expensive federal education program. President Lyndon Johnson adopted it as a component of his War on Poverty. Melendez said challenging times like these call for collaboration among stakeholders, as well as systemic reforms.

Melendez closed her opening remarks with a quote from Robert Kennedy, whom she said she met when she was a child.

Lisa Brandes is chief administrative officer with the National Title One Association. She said the vast majority of schools receive Title One grants.

The Title One program provides formula-based grants to schools where at least 75 percent of students receive free or reduced price meals. Districts do have the option of extending Title One benefits to schools with a smaller percentage of impoverished students fall below that level if they have a higher amount of such students than the district-wide average. For example, Hillsborough County Schools extend Title One dollars to high schools with 56 percent of students living in poverty, and elementary schools whose student body has a 60 percent poverty rate. Brandes said the funds aim to supplement school budgets.

She said this can fund auxiliary teacher positions or extra computers, among other things. One of the more controversial elements of the Obama Administration’s education reform approach is the inclusion of merit pay, as seen in the Race to the Top grant program. Florida receives Race to the Top funds. Brandes said Title One has little to do with firing teachers whose students don’t do well on standardized tests.

Brandes said the total number of Title One dollars is in the neighborhood of 19 billion. She said while there’s concern over whether the anti-government spending sentiment currently dominating political dialogue will result in cuts to the program, but there’s a bigger issue at stake here.

The National Title One Conference lasts through Thursday and features a range of keynote speakers.

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