Policy & Funding

Data Collection Snags Costing Neediest VT Schools Fed Improvement Funds

A former deputy secretary in the Vermont Agency of Education has called into question how the state has decided to allocate $2.2 million in school improvement dollars. Speaking in early February, Amy Fowler told lawmakers that under the rules of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the state needed to set aside 7 percent of its Title 1 funds specifically for the 5 percent of Title 1 schools that were "most in need of support." Those 12 to 15 schools would receive those extra funds every year for three years, as she explained in a letter to the state, "with the idea that a longer-term improvement strategy with predictable funds can lead to significant gains. The predictability supports longer term interventions that are likely to lead to greater and more sustainable improvements in learning."

Title 1 schools are those where at least 40 percent of students come from low-income families.

However, according to on-going reporting by VTDigger, a "data flub" compelled education agency officials to dole out the funds to every Title 1 school in the state," effectively [spreading] the dollars out over more than 200 schools." A persistent problem with deployment of a statewide data collection system has prevented the agency from being able to identify which schools should get the extra funding.

"This is the opposite of the congressional intention. It is not what the intention of that law is," Fowler told House Education committee members.

"If these schools knew that they had [$100,000-$300,000] dollars each year for the next three years to support improvement, they could make informed decisions and select from a different menu of interventions to address the needs of their deserving children," Fowler wrote in her letter.

According to VTDigger, the decisions made this year will affect the neediest schools and Vermont taxpayers for a long time to come. "Any interventions schools decide to fund with local dollars now can't later be supported with federal funds," wrote Reporter Lola Duffort. "That's because U.S. Department of Education rules require federal funds to 'supplement, not supplant' local dollars."

In response, House Education committee chair Rep. Kate Webb told VTDigger that she would ask agency officials to discuss the matter further with lawmakers.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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