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Communication of Federal Mandates for Title I Funds to state and localities

Renowned actor Tom Cruise starred in the 1996 classic, Jerry Maguire, as a sports agent who gets fired after writing a mission statement that upsets higher management. While attempting to keep some of his current clients and transfer them to his new company, he reaches out to Cuba Gooding Jr’s character, wide receiver Rod Tidwell. Rod proceeds to go on a boastful rant talking about how he wants to stay in Arizona, and how much his family “likes” Jerry. However, before he will commit to staying with Jerry as an agent, he tells him there is one thing he must do. Rod tells Jerry that he must say the family motto: “Show me the Money.” The phone conversation between the two characters became one of the most famous scenes from the movie due to the desperation of Jerry. Rod made Jerry scream the following over and over in his office, while his peers looked on in confusion:

Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: Yeah! Louder!

Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: Yes, but, brother, you got to yell that shit!

Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: I need to feel you, Jerry!

Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: Jerry, you got to yell!

Jerry Maguire: [screaming] Show me the money! Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: Do you love this black man!

Jerry Maguire: I love the black man! Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: I love black people.

Jerry Maguire: I love black people!

Rod Tidwell: Who's your motherfucker, Jerry?

Jerry Maguire: You're my motherfucker!

Rod Tidwell: Whatcha gonna do, Jerry?

Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!

Rod Tidwell: Unh! Congratulations, you're still my agent (Crowe, 1996).

           Instead of Jerry, imagine that the character speaking is your local school district, and insert their name into his dialogue. Additionally, I want you to remove Rod’s name, and insert the U.S. Department of Education. When I conceptualize how school districts ask for Title I funds, I romanticize that they are begging for this handout to cover personnel and other instructional costs at their schools. Although my framing of this conversation might appear to be exaggerated, the lack of structured communication between the federal government and state/local districts in mandating Title I funds leads to diverse opinions among all stakeholders in the use of these funds.

           I can vividly recall the confusion I experienced in my application and conceptual understanding of Title I usage at the k-12 level. One experience that has always stuck with me was when I was chosen to be the head administrator for RCPS+. RCPS+ was a summer enrichment program for students in the Roanoke City Public School System. Being a young assistant principal (just turning twenty-six a few weeks before the program started), I was eager to do a good job and make sure I followed all the mandates laid out before me. After working with the Assistant Superintendent and other central office designees on class scheduling, instructional resources, and admissions protocols, I felt confident I was ready for the first day of the program.

However, I had completely overlooked obtaining enough technology (ex: I-pads, laptops, SmartBoards, etc.) for the teachers to use in their daily instruction. During the academic school year, my middle school served roughly four-hundred and sixty students. RCPS+ houses all the students in one middle school, which meant an additional five to six hundred students might enroll in the program at my school. Luckily, I was able to recognize the shortage of technology and advocate for these things. Assisting the Assistant Superintendent in speaking with various school administrators in our district on what laptop/I-pad carts we could borrow became a monumental headache. The issue we kept stumbling into was the hesitance many administrators faced in loaning out their equipment that was purchased by Title I funds. While I do not blame my peers for having this worry, I was puzzled why these fears were so quick to be shared. Instead of us all working together to devise ways to use Title I resources on the students from their respective schools at the summer program, we all accepted the mindset of what “big brother” would do if we misappropriated items and shied away from those conversations. In my conversations with other school officials (teachers, principals and central office staff), similar examples of fear and misunderstanding surrounding Title I permeate its core.

           This essay intends to tackle the following question: “How are the federal mandates for Title I funds communicated to state and locality stakeholders?” To answer these questions, I will provide a brief overview of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the federal government’s involvement in education. Additionally, I will dive into Title I’s initial inception and the mandates associated with the program’s expenditures. Next, I will discuss state implemented curriculum and standardized testing for compliance with Title I compliance. Lastly, I will examine locality perceptions shaped by these hierarchal components, and propose two steps for making this process more efficient. The hope is that this manuscript will help scholars and practitioners in their attempts to utilize Title I funding more effectively so that all students can thrive in their academic environments.

The Elementary & Secondary Act of 1965

To talk about Title I’s history, one must first examine the ESEA and court rulings pertaining to the expenditures and directives of provided services for students in public schools. The ESEA was passed in 1965 by the 89th Congress that established federal funding initiatives for primary and secondary schools in the United States. In retrospect, this is viewed as the largest statue that the federal government has constituted regarding education (DeBray, 2006; McGuinn, 2009). The ESEA originally composed of six different acts (with two more growing out of Title VI) addressing the following items:

-         Title I: Financial Assistance to Local Educational Agencies for The Education of Children of Low-Income Families

-         Title II: School Library Resources, Textbooks, and other Instructional Materials

-         Title III—Supplementary Educational Centers and Services

-         Title IV—Educational Research and Training

-         Title V—Grants to Strengthen State Departments of Education

-         Title VI—General Provisions.

This act stemmed out of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s State of the Union Address in January 8th, 1964, proposing legislation that responded to the growing national poverty rate:

“Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support... The program I shall propose will emphasize this cooperative approach to help that one-fifth of all American families with incomes too small to even meet their basic needs. Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them” (Johnson, 1964, p. 3).

           The Commander in Chief’s call to action was taken up by many Americans and led to bipartisan support to address this problem in our country. The national awareness being drawn to the intersections of educational attainment and poverty (especially for minorities), led to the collective push for directing funds to disadvantaged groups. However, constituencies disagreed on the best ways to supplement these funds in schools, leading to the chaos surrounding its mandates and reauthorization in Congress (Murphy, 1973). Over the course of its fifty-plus years in existence, these debates have contributed to the reauthorizations methods (and subsequent name changes) that have strengthened the federal government’s influence over state and localities education efforts by exercising the “power of the purse” (McDermott & Jensen, 2005, p. 44).  Although the names have shifted from titles such as No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, that mandated accountability checks for this funding, to its replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, adjusting the level of scrutiny its predecessor imposed on schools, the premise has remained largely the same.

Federal Interpretation of Education

Although the federal government has tried to nudge state and local officials into providing equal conditions that promote student learning for all stakeholders, they have no constitutional authority to do so. The limits of the federal government’s power can directly be attributed to their reliance on using funding initiatives to persuade state and local officials to follow their proposed guidance (McDermott & Jensen, 2005). Four precedent-setting court cases between 1973-1974 created “more confusion than clarity in terms of the legal and practical definition of equal educational opportunity in public schools” (Nelson, 2007, p. 202). The overlapping of multiple definitions, mixed with rulings taken from either the Fourteenth Amendment or Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has contributed heavily to the inconsistencies in using federal funds for k-12 education. Below is a quick summary of each US Supreme Court case and the decision:

San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (March 1973): Court ruled that education was not a "fundamental right," and that students were not entitled to equalized school resources; federal law instead entitled students to a "basic minimum." Keyes v. Denver School District (June 1973): Court ruled (for the first time) that a northern district must pursue "immediate" desegregation, "by means of busing if necessary." Additionally, this ruling upheld the lower court’s decision that a constitutionally acceptable program involves "a system of desegregation and integration." Lau v. Nichols (January 1974): Court ruled that schools were required to "establish programs" to meet the needs of Non-English Proficient students in San Francisco to foster "meaningful participation" in class. Also, Lau (unlike the previous two cases), was based on the Civil Rights Act, not the Fourteenth Amendment. Milliken v. Bradley (July 1974): Although the city of Detroit could not include suburban areas in their desegregation plan, the Court ruled they could "insist" that state aid be used to improve the quality of city schools (Nelson, 2007, p. 203).

These decisions have left education in a tumultuous gray area regarding expenditures and services. Due to the necessary entanglement between these two factors, school systems are left with flexibility on how to initiate measures they feel are the best for their students/communities. Since the rulings explicitly or implicitly referenced the following in all four cases, “racial equality, resource adequacy, and program quality,” the lack of apparent consistency in the verdicts has played itself out in continued conversations pertaining to the usage of funds in public schools (Nelson, 2007, p. 204-205). When you combine that with the fact that none of these rulings instituted additional monetary support to achieve the Court’s wishes, educators are left scrambling to fix measures without additional support. While concerns of equity were dominant issues in the mid 70’s in our country, these anxieties are still playing themselves out present day regarding the allocation of funds to categorized groups, and the lack of collective thought on the best way to accomplish these endeavors.

Title I’s Inception

           Upon Title I’s inception, many educators were stunned to find out that the funds were to be allocated exclusively based on poverty. Per a national survey in May 1966, seventy percent of school administrators did not agree with this mandate (Murphy, 1971). Additionally, conservative politicians were not thrilled about adding another expenditure to the federal budget. Ironically, liberals were able to persuade conservatives when it was discovered that southern states would receive more funds due to their higher number of poor students (McGuinn, 2009). The clash of beliefs highlights the stigma many placed regarding these funds. In retrospect to the Jerry McGuire example in the introduction, educators and southern conservative’s feelings were similar to the reluctance Jerry showed Rod, but the need for additional funding to supplement programs outweighed their personal emotions.

           In the 70’s, a myriad of reports shed light on the misuses of Title I funding (DeBray, 2006). While these misuses should not have come as a surprise to anyone (based on the initial feelings many harbored towards Title I), the following decades laid the foundation for increased efforts in accountability and acceptable use of funds. While many point to the research indicating the lack of effectiveness improving economically disadvantaged students, they do not highlight the lack of cohesive thought when the program was established. Many congressmen differed on the tenants of Title I, and if it was meant to be “an anti-poverty measure or a thinly disguised aid-to-education bill” (Murphy, 1973). The intersections of opposing thought have limped Title I into a fragmented effort whose value was diminished upon implementation in schools.

Mandates for Title I expenditures

As convoluted as educators, politicians, and court decisions can be regarding supplemented resources and fiscal responsibility, the mandates identifying these parameters have also become altered overtime. Initially, Title I simply constituted itself as a distribution formula for calculating the amount of funds a locality needed based off their number of poor students (Kirst, 1980; Murphy, 1971). School districts would identify which schools meet this criterion, and apply with their state departments for the funds. This information would then be relayed to the federal government, which in turn gave the funds to the state for disbursement. The only mandate was that states ensure that the local school systems were using the funds appropriately in their schools (Kirst, 1980). However, this mandate minimized typical federal guidelines that were routinely associated with categorical grants (McGuinn, 2009). Overtime, it became evident that the funds were not being used properly, and many begin to speak out to ensure state and localities compliance (Cohen & Moffitt, 2009). The courts began to render verdicts that states would lose federal funding if they did not adhere to their rulings. Various groups, such as the NAACP, NEA, and the National Advisory Council for the Education of Disadvantaged Children, voiced their concerns over noncompliance, leading to adjustments of the mandates during reauthorization periods.

           To quell the disjointed confusion schools were having with targeting services to the qualified students, the Hawkins-Stafford Amendments to the ESEA were introduced in 1988. The introduction of this legislation allowed schools that were composed of at least 75% of their students in poverty to adopt schoolwide programs (Sunderman, 2001). These amendments gave districts and individual schools flexibility in adopting school-wide programs with this funding. Although school-wide initiatives had technically been allowed since 1978, prior to these amendments being passed, schools were required to match these funds (Sunderman, 2001). With the removal of this burden, schools moved away from pull-out programs and embraced inclusive measures. However, the lack of significant increases in student achievement led to the momentum of standard-based learning and measurable assessments (Vinovskis, 2009).

           Currently, the provisions under Title I according to the Every Student Succeeds Act (current version of the ESEA), requires that all students utilize standard-based curriculum, and be given tests at certain junctures to monitor student performance:

…statewide assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics (will be given) in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as well as assessments once in each grade span in science for all students and annual English language proficiency assessments in grades K-12 for all English learners. The law also includes important protections to ensure that all students are tested, offered appropriate accommodations when needed, and held to the same high standards (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). 

Additionally, while new regulations have given more flexibility regarding accountability metrics, states and districts “will continue to be required to take comprehensive action to turn around struggling schools” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). In review of the law and protocols set forth by Congress, there is not a single utterance of a particular standard/s or assessments that must be implemented.

State-Wide Curriculum & Assessments

Unfortunately, my beloved home state becomes the example of the authoritative educational model that inadvertently grew out of the court cases and flexibility in school-wide programs. Virginia uses a standard-based curriculum called “Standards of Learning.” The standards are comprised of the four critical areas: social studies/history, mathematics, English and science. Below is an example of a World History II standard/s for World War I:


The student will demonstrate knowledge of the worldwide impact of World War I by

a)  explaining economic causes, political causes, and major events and identifying major leaders of the war, with emphasis on Woodrow Wilson and Kaiser Wilhelm II;

b)  explaining the outcomes and global effect of the war and the Treaty of Versailles.

Essential Understandings

World War I (1914-1918) was caused by competition among industrial nations in Europe and a failure of diplomacy. The war transformed European and American life, wrecked the economies of Europe, and planted the seeds for a second world war.

Essential Questions

What were the factors that produced World War I? What were the major events of the war? Who were the major leaders? What were the outcomes and global effects of World War I? What were the terms of the Treaty of Versailles?

Essential Knowledge

Causes of World War I

Alliances that divided Europe into competing camps; Nationalistic feelings; Diplomatic failures; Imperialism; Competition over colonies; Militarism

Major events

Assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand; United States enters the war; Russia leaves the war.

Major leaders

Woodrow Wilson; Kaiser Wilhelm II

Outcomes and global effect

Colonies’ participation in the war, which increased demands for independence. End of the Russian Imperial, Ottoman, German, and Austro-Hungarian empires; Enormous cost of the war in lives, property, and social disruption.

Treaty of Versailles

Forced Germany to accept responsibility for war and loss of territory and to pay reparations; Limited the German military; League of Nations.

Essential Skills

Identify, analyze, and interpret primary and secondary sources to make generalizations about events and life in world history. (WHII.1a)

Use maps, globes, artifacts, and pictures to analyze the physical and cultural landscapes of the world and to interpret the past. (WHII.1b)

Identify and compare contemporary political boundaries with the locations of civilizations, empires, and kingdoms. (WHII.1d)

(Virginia Department of Education © Commonwealth of Virginia, 2017)

The standards are extracted from the initial statement that breaks into sub-categories. For each category, there are four areas that help constitute mastery of the Essential Understanding, Questions, Knowledge, and Skills. Although these standards were approved in June 1995, they were not linked to school accreditation (in correlation with statewide accountability tests) until September 1997 (Virginia Department of Education © Commonwealth of Virginia, 2017). This combination of standard-driven instruction and comparative formative assessments helped Virginia politicians and educators advocate to maintain this model in the wake of NCLB passing in January 2002 (Cohen & Moffitt, 2009). Ironically, many tend to forget (or choose to overlook) that these measures were enacted before federal mandates were established. Like many others, Virginia chose to prepare stakeholders for the coming shift in educational thought by utilizing these measures before federal funds were tied to these parameters.

However, this does not explain the interest Virginia and many other states have in conforming to “future” laws for “future” money. Conditions for federal funding (in compliance with the ESEA/Title I protocols) have always been tied to state agencies, and provisions of state matched funding (McGuinn, 2009). In an ironic twist, this had led to a reduction in locality spending, causing the state to foot even more of the bill. The state’s increased education budget has caused them to be more active role in localities decisions regarding educational reform and goal-orientated policies (Cohen & Moffitt, 2009; Vinovskis, 2009). Due to these massive expenditures, state representatives will gladly take the additional federal funds and mandate compliance from the local school districts to adhere to ESEA (and most importantly Title I) guidelines.

Locality Perceptions

At the school/central office level, these connections between standard-based instruction and Title I expenditures are not made explicitly clear, leading to massive confusion among administrators and teachers. Additionally, the small amount of research into school-wide initiatives utilizing Title I resources to meet federal guidelines limits practitioner’s willingness to suggest innovative solutions without a solid basis. This became evident in Sunderman’s (2001) research comparing three urban districts implementation of Title I schoolwide programs. According to Sunderman, “Schools were likely to emphasize discrete aspects of the instructional program rather than view school improvement in a schoolwide manner” (p. 519). Educators adopted additional programs to meet accountability measures, without supplementing the programs into their current instructional fabric. These implications became evident in the increased instructional time given for core contents (most notably English and mathematics) at the detriment of elective courses (music, art, etc.), hiring additional staff to minimize the number of assigned students in each class, grouping students based on instructional ability, and utilizing reforms solely on the premise of increasing student performance on standardized tests.

           Although Sunderman’s findings “suggest that states and districts relied on outcome controls to create pressure and place constraints on schools,” the level at which these happen differed based on the localities political and social climate (p. 525). The elasticity, under schoolwide programs, allowed schools to strategically integrate standard-based reforms with current school agendas. However, in all three districts observed (Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland), “neither the schoolwide program nor the accountability mandates were sufficient to ensure that schools designed their schoolwide programs in ways that would reduce curricular and instructional fragmentation” (p. 525). Fascinatingly, in schools that had less pressure to meet immediate testing mandates, administrators were more likely to incorporate increased instructional time for all students, than dividing them up by instructional ability. The poor performing schools tended to devote accommodations specifically targeting those students, which took the form of remedial classes and pull-out initiatives.

Moving Forward

           The lack of equal funding contributes to the quality education that our students have access to in their neighborhoods. Title I helps provide additional monetary assistance to areas in need, but the confusion on how to utilize those funds has become muddled in confusion. Instead of state/localities feeling that like they are slaves to the money that the federal government divvies out (like Jerry Maguire), communicational efforts can be strengthened to maximize the usage of these funds. Below are two steps I recommend for implementation to help remedy this problem.

Step #1: The federal government should establish a rubric on innovative ways to utilize these funds for schoolwide improvement purposes.

           Although many states list what Title I funds can be used for (hiring additional staff, purchasing technology, etc.), these reflect categorical applications, and not schoolwide implementation efforts. The Department of Education should be tasked with developing a master (and ever-growing) list of innovative ways to use Title I money for schoolwide initiatives. This initial list of “example schoolwide plans” would be developed by a group of stakeholders such as: education and law professors, school administrators, Department of Education personnel, and central office designees. These examples would be made available to the masses so schools could see various ways they could implement Title I initiatives that are embedded within their school’s current goals. Every year, these plans would be sent to the state (who would analyze and critique them), then submitted to the Department of Education. The Department of Education would choose the most outstanding submissions and have the members from that school/state meet with Department of Education designees to explain how they are utilizing Title I funds in an effective and supplemental way. These ideas would be posted on the Department of Education website for various school systems to reference.

Step #2: The federal government explicitly tell states/localities what power they have in educational decisions.

           Although this manuscript has highlighted that the federal government influences decisions regarding education with financial support, it does not have constitutional power to force certain measures. Even our new president, Donald Trump, made assertions that he will eliminate Common Core Standards, which is out of his assigned authority. Unfortunately, many people (including educators) tend to accept the narrative that the federal government has exercised control over an unofficial function. Thus, the Department of Education needs to explicitly inform all stakeholders what authority it does and does not have regarding federal mandates. While this information is made available online, this needs to be disseminated to localities even further. Workshops could be established where these indicators are thoroughly explained to answer misinformation and invalid assumptions. Summaries could be attached to Department of Education paperwork/memos, highlighting explicit actions the organization can take under designated circumstances.


More research is needed examining the disconnect between federal education mandates and misconceptions. In the case of Title I funding, many of these myths are entrenched in the program’s chaotic history. The lack of cohesion from its inception has allowed countless individuals to form their own narrative of how this money can be allocated and utilized in schools. Even though this paper has shed light on the federal mandates for Title I funds communicated to states and localities, it can be asserted that the degree of frustration for all parties’ stem from the belief that children are our future, and that we cannot flounder with the help we provide them. As bell hooks (2009) once said, “A major flaw in all of our nation’s powerful movements for social justice has been and remains the assumption that liberation will take place in one fell swoop” (p.26). Providing avenues for quality education to take place in all communities is essential to our country’s continued strength and growth in the 21st century. As communication between various educational entities becomes strengthened, we have a chance to utilize Title I funds more effectively.


Cohen, D. K., & Moffitt, S. L. (2009). The Ordeal of Equality: Did Federal Regulation Fix the Schools? Cambridge: Havard University Press.

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DeBray, E. (2006). Politics, Ideology, & Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

hooks, b. (2009). Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.

Johnson, L. B. (1964, January 8). The War on Poverty: Lyndon Baines Johnson First State of the Union Address. Retrieved from Core Materials:

Kirst, M., & Jung, R. (1980). The Utility of a Longitudinal Approach in Assessing Implementation: A Thirteen-Year View of Title I, ESEA. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 2(5), 17-34.

McDermott, K., & Jensen, L. (2005). Dubious sovereignty: Federal conditions of aid and the No Child Left Behind Act. Peabody Joournal of Education, 80(2), 39-56.

McGuinn, P. (2009). Education policy from the Great Society to 1980: The expansion and institutionalization of the Federal role in schools. In B. Glenn, & S. Teles, Conservatism and American political development (pp. 188-219). New York: Oxford University Press.

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Murphy, J. (1973). The Education Bureucracies Implement a Novel Policy: The Politics of Title I of ESEA, 1965-72. In A. Sindler, Policy and Politics in America: Six Case Studies (p. 169). Boston: Little.

Nelson, A. R. (2007). Rodriguez, Keyes, Lau, and Milliken Revisited: The Supreme Court and the Meaning of "Equal Educational Opportunity," 1973-1974. In A. E. Lodewick, To Educate A Nation: Federal and National Strategies of School Reform (pp. 202-224). Lawerence: University Press of Kansas.

Sunderman, G. L. (2001). Accountability Mandates and the Implementation of Title I Schoolwide Programs: A Comparison of Three Urban Districts. Educational Administration Quarterly, 37(4), 503-532.

U.S. Department of Education. (2017, March 21). Every Student Succeeds Act: Accountability, State Plans, and Data Reporting: Summary of Final Regulations. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education:

U.S. Department of Education. (2017, March 21). Every Student Succeeds Act: Assessments under Title I, Part A & Title I, Part B: Summary of Final Regulations. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education:

U.S. Department of Education. (2017, January 26). FACT SHEET: Supplement-not-Supplant under Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Education web site:

Vinovskis, M. (2009). From A Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind: National Education Goals and the Creation of Federal Education Policy. New York: Teachers College Press.

Virginia Department of Education © Commonwealth of Virginia. (2017, March 30). Standards of Learning (SOL) & Testing. Retrieved from Virginia Department of Education:

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