The Obama administration said Friday that schools supporting the nation's poorest students will see significant cuts under a measure spearheaded by U.S. Rep. John Kline and backed by House Republicans.
The White House released a report showing a $7 billion cut to schools that educate low-income students over six years as part of Republicans' efforts to overhaul the federal No Child Left Behind law. The special funding stream, called Title 1, has become critical federal poverty aid that among other things supports efforts to close the achievement gap between white and minority students across the country.
Minnesota schools stand to lose $74 million in those funds over the same time period, according to the report. Minneapolis Public Schools would see a cut of $5.4 million or roughly 22 percent of its funding for low-income students. St. Paul Public Schools would see a cut of $5.2 million in fiscal year 2014. The Red Lake School District, where 82 percent of its students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, would see 47 percent of its federal poverty aid disappear.
The money is generally a small part of a district's overall budget, but passions run high because it directly aids low-income students in districts that often struggle.
"It would be just devastating," said state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius, when asked about the impact in a district like Red Lake.
Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, issued a statement calling the White House report "biased," saying it is "further proof the president is out of touch with the priorities of our country."
He said in the release that education spending isn't cut in the Student Success Act, which was approved in the House this week, and that the legislation increases funding programs for low-income students from $14.4 billion to $14.9 billion.
"The White House is using scare tactics and budget gimmicks to kill K-12 education reform, because they know a new law will lead to less control in the hands of Washington bureaucrats and more control in the hands of parents and education leaders," Kline said.
Minnesota school officials said they were concerned for low-income students who now benefit from federal spending. About 64 percent of Minneapolis public school students come from homes with low enough incomes to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.
Sherry Carlstrom, director of Title 1 programs for St. Paul Public Schools, said the district has been seeing declining federal poverty aid for years. This year it received about $20 million. One-fourth of its current allotment would be eliminated, according to the White House report.
The district's early learning programs and some of its services aimed at helping homeless youth could be in jeopardy if the cuts become law, she said. "You're talking about taking money away from our most high-poverty, high-needs kids."
Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said schools in areas of poverty would lose funds under the Student Success Act while those in wealthier areas would get more money.
She cited the disparities in Michigan where, under the proposed law, Detroit schools would see a 34.4 percent reduction in funds while a school system in a wealthier part of the state would see an increase in funds.
"This approach is backward, and our teachers and kids deserve much, much better," Muñoz said.
Kline's office said the proposed legislation is designed to give low-income students the option to transfer to higher-performing schools.
For example, if a low-income student were to transfer to another school, the state would have to ensure the student's share of federal funding followed him or her to the new school, said Brian Newell, communications director for the House Education and the Workforce Committee. He said states can choose to opt out of the portability provision, however.
Muñoz said Obama is willing to work with a bipartisan bill but stopped short of saying he would veto the Kline plan.
"The president also wants to make sure we remain focused on making sure all kids succeed," Muñoz said.