Focus on Florida
The Florida House Education Committee has a message for federal regulators: When it comes to Title I funding, we want your money, just not the accompanying regulatory burden.
A memorial approved by the House Education Committee on Tuesday would send that message along.
The proposed memorial, introduced by committee Vice Chair Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, creates an official document to be sent to Congress requesting an easing of regulations that accompany Title I funding.
Title I funding, which sends grants to the states to improve the academic achievement levels of disadvantaged children, is allocated by the U.S. Department of Education.
Cortes argues that Title I grants often require excessive amounts of oversight and regulatory activity, which eats into how much funding reaches the students.
“In my county [Seminole County], out of the 31 elementary schools, 16 are Title I. They have four full-time staffers dedicated just for Title I paperwork and administration, which drives up the costs that should go to the students,” Cortes said.
Cortes cited a Jan. 6 letter the DOE sent to Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart informing her that the Florida general assessment for reading/language arts and mathematics in grades 3-8 only “partially meets requirements.”
As a result, the FLDOE must “provide substantial additional information to demonstrate it meets the requirements” or face threats to funding.
“Because one of the State’s components has partially met the requirements, the Department is placing a condition on the State’s Title I grant award related to those components of the assessment system,” the letter states.
Cortes said the letter is an example of bureaucratic red tape coming from the feds.
“Your head will spin when you read all of the regulations that they have on [Title I funds],” he said, adding that legislators and teachers in Florida want the money to go to the same things the federal government does — educating needy children.
“Where we disagree is how we have to report back to them,” Cortes said.
Democratic ranking member Shev Jones, D-West Park, said he understood the goal of the memorial but questioned the timing, saying that the situation at the Department of Education was too “hot” right now.
Other members disagreed.
“The timing on this couldn’t be better,” said state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah.
“Title I dollars are allocated for Title I students who meet a certain threshold. We’re not changing who’s eligible. … What this would do is ask Congress to take some of the regulations out of the way and appropriate these dollars down to the districts with more flexibility for them to impact the children in the classroom,” he added.
Diaz said trimming down the administrative and regulatory activity associated with the funding would free up an estimated $500 dollars per Title I student.
“Now would be a perfect time when we’re trying to reduce testing,” agreed state Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City. “At least from my local perspective, a lot of the grant dollars that our school system was vying for had to be justified by a lot of additional testing.”
Testing reform has recently been discussed in the Florida legislature. A pair of bills in the House and Senate would reform the testing schedule for the next school year.
During the meeting, committee Chair Michael Bileca, R-Miami, noted that between $50 million and $75 million of Florida’s Title I funding is spent on administering paperwork, and he urged support for the memorial.
“This is the opportunity … with the change in administration, some of what’s coming out of Washington, wanting to get things to state and local control,” Bileca said.
After discussion among committee members, the memorial passed by a 15-3 vote. The three dissenters were Jones, state Rep. Kamia Brown, D-Ocoee, and state Rep. Barry Russell, D-Lauderdale Lakes.
“Are we doing this because we don’t think the federal government does a good job as far as the dispersion of the funds?” Jones asked.
“That’s a great question,” Cortes answered. “No, the reason we’re doing it is we’re seeing more regulations. I compare it to trying to tie your shoestring but using a boat anchor rope to do it.”