At Vermont's North Country Union High School, a significant cut in federal Title I funding could lead to the loss of a substance abuse prevention program that is helping students quit vaping, said Principal Christopher Young.
And for Ohio's Shelby High School, Principal John Gies said an 80% decrease in Title I funding could result in fewer teachers and professional development opportunities in the district.
Gies and Young are joined by school leaders across the country calling on Congress to preserve federal funding for the education of low-income students. The opposition from school leaders comes after a July House subcommittee proposal to eliminate 80% of Title I funding in the FY 2024 budget, which administrators say would have harmful impacts to K-12.
The letter, sent by The National Association of Secondary School Principals on Sept. 5 to all congressional leaders and members, warns of "drastic reductions" to Every Student Succeeds Act programs if the proposal from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies becomes law.
NASSP's letter was signed by 45 state school leader associations.
Young, who was named Vermont's 2023 Principal of the Year, said his school receives about $70,000 a year in Title I funding. The school recently partnered with a local mental health center to provide prevention and recovery services to students. About 100 students in the 700-student school used the recovery services last year, he said.
If Title I funding dissipates, the program would probably be significantly scaled back or could even be eliminated, Young said.
"It has a ripple effect throughout the entire school program if we lose funding for this," he said.
In Ohio's Shelby City Schools, where Shelby High School is located, Gies said the district receives about $400,000 in Title I funds for its approximately 2,000 students. Most of that money goes toward salaries, including for elementary school teachers who are teaching reading skills.
"When you're talking about money that is allocated to help your most struggling students and your struggling teachers to try and help them improve, those are the groups of people you don't want to lose funding for," said Gies.
He said he has conservative leanings and understands the politics in action, but that he hopes "that people understand that they're really talking about children — some of our most needy children — and we need to make sure we continue to provide for them."
Looming deadline for budget agreement
House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee said in a July statement that the proposed reduction to Title I funding is due to unspent federal emergency pandemic funding. "Further investments will not be provided until these funds are used responsibly, the statement said.
School districts have until Sept. 30, 2024, to obligate the last of the COVID-19 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, and until Jan. 28, 2025, to spend the money. According to a U.S. Department of Education portal, only nine states have spent less than half of their ESSER funds as of July 31.
The full House Appropriations Committee has not yet marked up the Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies FY 2024 funding bill.
By contrast, a bipartisan Senate Appropriations Committee proposal for FY 2024 would boost Title I by $175 million and add $175 million for pre-K-12 special education state grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Regardless of the final appropriations agreement, Congress has already agreed to level funding for the Education Department in FY 2024 as a result of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, signed by President Joe Biden in June, which raised the debt ceiling limit.
Although FY 2024 begins Oct. 1, it is unlikely Congress will meet a Sept. 31 deadline to approve the budget and would need to approve a stopgap measure to avoid a federal government shutdown.