No Child Left Behind Act:

Education Actions Could Improve the Targeting of School Improvement Funds to Schools Most in Need of Assistance

GAO-08-380: Published: Feb 29, 2008. Publicly Released: Mar 25, 2008.

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Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), the federal government provides millions of dollars annually to assist schools that have not met state academic goals. In the 2006-2007 school year, over 10,000 such schools were identified for improvement. NCLBA requires states to set aside 4 percent of their Title I funds to pay for school improvement efforts. GAO was asked to determine (1) the extent to which states have set aside these funds and used other resources for school improvement, (2) which schools received improvement funds and the extent funds are tracked, (3) the activities states and schools have undertaken and how activities are assessed, and (4) how Education supports states' improvement efforts. GAO administered a survey to state education officials and received a 100 percent response rate, matched survey data to an Education database, and conducted site visits to five states.

A statutory requirement--known as a hold-harmless provision--has limited some states' ability to target the full 4 percent of Title I funds for school improvement to low-performing schools. However, many states have used other federal and state funds for this purpose. While the hold-harmless provision is designed to protect school districts from reductions in their Title I funding, it has also kept 22 states from setting aside the full portion of Title I school improvement funds since 2002 because they did not have enough funds to do so after satisfying the hold-harmless provision. To address this, Education has proposed repealing the hold-harmless provision. However, it is not known how removing this provision would affect districts protected by it. In addition to Title I funds, 38 states have dedicated other federal funds, and 17 have contributed state funds for school improvement. Though states generally target improvement funds to the most persistently underperforming schools, some states did not fulfill key NCLBA requirements. Specifically, 4 states did not follow all requirements to ensure that schools most in need of assistance received funds. Although Education monitors how states allocate improvement funds, it did not identify this issue. Also, 4 states were unable to provide a complete list of schools that received improvement funds, as required by law. Education has not provided guidance on this requirement and does not monitor compliance with it. Schools and states are engaged in a variety of improvement activities, and most states use student data and feedback to assess activities. Most states reported that schools receiving improvement funds used the funds for professional development and for reorganizing curriculum or instruction time. Nearly all states assisted schools with school improvement plans and professional development. Most states use student achievement data and feedback from schools and districts to assess improvement activities. Education provides a range of support for school improvement, including technical assistance and research results. Nearly all states want more help, such as more information on promising improvement practices. Education has a new Web site to provide additional resources and plans to collect more information on promising practices through a new grant program.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, Education submitted a collection package to OMB for the purposes of conducting a study to determine the impact of the hold harmless provision, which OMB approved. As of August 2012, ED reported that the data for the study has been collected and a report has been drafted. The study is currently waiting to be published.

    Recommendation: To enhance state efforts to target improvement funds to schools most in need of assistance, the Secretary of Education should, to further support the department's proposal to eliminate the hold-harmless provision, develop an analysis comparing the characteristics of districts that contribute to the set-aside with those protected by the hold-harmless provision. Such an analysis could identify differences in school performance or student characteristics.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Education, the agency is in the process of developing guidance and a school improvement application for states that will target the lowest achieving Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, and restructuring. In accordance with the new requirements for the school improvement funds, states will be required to identify the lowest achieving five percent of Title I schools in improvement, corrective action, and restructuring. The data on these schools must indicate that overall student achievement is extremely low or little or no growth has occurred over a number of years. In the fall of 2009, ED released the FY 2009 SIG application for states to run a competition to award a first cohort of SIG schools. The FY 2010 application was released in the fall of 2010 to award a second cohort of SIG schools. The FY 2011 application was released in the fall of 2011 and will be used by some states to award a third cohort of SIG schools, while others will use the funds to make continuation awards to previously funded SIG schools. In addition, ED issued guidance to provide assistance to state and local education agencies, and to schools in implementing the final requirements of the School Improvement Grants program on January 20, 2010. The guidance has been updated several times to address new FAQs and was most recently updated on March 1, 2012.

    Recommendation: To enhance state efforts to target improvement funds to schools most in need of assistance, the Secretary of Education should review the Title I monitoring process to ensure that steps are in place to ensure that states comply with NCLBA requirements for allocating school improvement funds to districts for district-level activities and prioritizing funds to the lowest performing schools.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, Education reported that it added more reporting requirements to the annual Consolidated State Performance Report (CSPR) on school improvement funds to local educational agencies. Starting with the 2007-2008 schools year, the Department stated that it would collect data from all states on which schools receive school improvement funding. On October 28, 2010, ED issued final program requirements for the School Improvement Grants (SIG) (75 FR 66363). These rules require state educational agencies (SEA) to report a list of the local education agencies (LEA), including their NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) identification numbers, that received a SIG award under section 1003(g) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the amount of the grant. Additionally, for each LEA that received a school improvement grant, the SEA must report a list of the schools that were served, their NCES identification numbers, and the amount of funds or value of services each school received. The SEA must also collect and report school-level data on nine leading indicators and eight achievement indicators for any Tier I or Tier II school that receives a SIG award. In addition, ED issued guidance to provide assistance to state and local education agencies, and to schools in implementing the final requirements of the School Improvement Grants program on January 20, 2010. The guidance has been updated several times to address new FAQs and was most recently updated on March 1, 2012.

    Recommendation: To enhance state efforts to target improvement funds to schools most in need of assistance, the Secretary of Education should ensure that states track which schools receive improvement funds and can comply with the requirement to make a list publicly available of all schools receiving Title I improvement funds by providing guidance to clarify when and how this information is to be made available and by monitoring state compliance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

 

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