Education Department To Cut Off Federal Funding For Hundreds Of Rural Schools
A change in bookkeeping at the Department of Education threatens to cut federal funding for more than 800 rural schools under the Rural and Low-Income School Program, according to The Hill.
The New York Times first reported that the schools “stand to lose thousands of dollars from the Rural and Low-Income School Program because the department has abruptly changed how districts are to report how many of their students live in poverty.”
The program helps schools in isolated areas where fewer local funding opportunities exist, The Hill noted, and cutting those funds could be devastating for many school districts that rely on federal help.
In a letter to school administrators, Education Department officials said the schools have “erroneously” received funding when they failed to meet eligibility requirements set forth in the federal education law since 2002, The Hill reported.
Rather than using the Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates to determine if at least 20 percent of students were below the poverty line, the schools were using percentage of students who qualified for subsidized school lunches.
This method “follows the same guidelines for determining if a student is living under the poverty line, and is better than the Census at ensuring each student attending the district is counted,” The Times noted.
In fact, for the past 17 years the Education Department has accepted this form of reporting.
But department spokeswoman Liz Hill said the issue is that this process does not follow the law.
“When you discover you’re not following the law Congress wrote, you don’t double down; you fix it,” Hill told The Times. “If that’s what Congress wants, Congress should pass it, and the Education Department will happily implement it. We will also continue to look for ways to help ensure students are not unnecessarily harmed.”
The Hill noted that this “change comes less than a month after the Department of Education cut funding for the Rural Education Achievement Program, a fund created by Congress to assist rural schools.”