Rep. Glenn Thompson likes new education law, but says more yet to do

Rebersburg Elementary School students in Pennsylvania participate in science lab activities.
Rebersburg Elementary School students in Pennsylvania participate in science lab activities. Centre Daily Times

President Barack Obama had just signed an overhaul to the nation’s education law when Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., pledged to not give up on trying to “equalize” the way federal money is spent helping low-income students.

Thompson’s proposal to change the Title 1 funding formula used to divvy up those education dollars to states didn’t make it into the final Every Student Succeeds Act this month. But he said he’s laying groundwork to revisit the issue in four years when Congress will consider reauthorization of broad legislation that provides billions in federal tax dollars to schools nationwide.

Title 1, a program designed to help educate poor students, provides about $14 billion to public school districts annually, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Pennsylvania isn’t getting its fair share, Thompson said.

The current formula provides more money for the most populous school districts instead of those classrooms with the most low-income children. Still, Thompson supported the No Child Left Behind Act rewrite, saying Thursday after attending the White House signing ceremony that the new law is “historic reform” and is “long overdue” to replace many of the Bush-era K-12 education policies.

Critics have said the previous No Child Left Behind law has been confusing and burdensome to teachers and principals.

A senior member of the House Education and Workforce Committee and a former Bald Eagle Area School Board member, Thompson helped write the new law, which gained overwhelming bipartisan support.

Republican Rep. Scott Perry was the only member of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to oppose the reform. His office did not return calls for comment this week.

Key differences between the new law and No Child Left Behind include removing certain stipulations about the way states must improve low-performing schools, adding money for pre-kindergarten education, and allowing states to design their own yearly tests for students.

We have way too many testing days that crowd out teaching days.

Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., on reform to federal law requiring annual tests

Democrats and Republicans compromised on many aspects of the law, but lawmakers clashed over proposed amendments to Title 1 spending.

Thompson and others in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation want the formula changed to better fund schools in their home districts, which are often smaller in total population than in other states with large county-wide school districts. There are more than 80 school districts in Thompson’s 5th Congressional District, for example, which includes Centre County and 15 others.

A gradual reversing of the Title 1 funding weighting system would land more money for Pennsylvania but cut funds for others states.

Thompson hopes the idea will gain traction when the findings are published from a federal study of Title 1 effectiveness, commissioned in the new law. Every Student Succeeds also calls for a four-year pilot program to allow 50 school districts across the country to use Title 1 money in classrooms with the most need. If successful, Thompson wants to see that program expanded with permanence.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., supported the new law this week but didn’t get all he and other Senate Democrats wanted in pre-K funding. He’s introduced legislation every Congress looking to create universal pre-K nationwide, funded by ending a corporate tax loophole for partially foreign-owned U.S. companies.

Minutes after the Senate’s 85-12 vote Wednesday, Casey said it was a “source of frustration” that every Republican senator had previously voted down his universal pre-K amendment. Senate Democrats had to compromise on the reform and the law “is not perfect,” but it makes strides to return “local control” over schools, Casey said.

Particularly, the law’s scaling back on the federal government’s say over standardized testing saw lawmakers from both sides of the aisle get on board. Casey called the reform “a substantially better education policy” to address “14 years of cries for help from educators and school districts” under No Child Left Behind.

Under the new law, Pennsylvania schools will see an extra $50 million slated for school-based mental health programs and drug and violence prevention, as well as the creation of new science, technology, engineering and math courses, known as STEM, and advanced placement courses and early college enrollment programs.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @adouglasnews