Federal and state governments in the United States make extensive use of student poverty rates in compensatory aid programs like Title I. Unfortunately, the measures of student poverty that drive funding allocations under such programs are biased because they fail to reflect geographic differences in the cost of living. In this study, we construct alternative poverty income thresholds based on regional differences in the wage level for low-skilled workers. We then examine the distribution of Title I revenues after adjusting poverty rates for geographic differences in the cost of living and adjusting Title I revenues for geographic differences in the purchasing power of school districts. Our findings turn conventional wisdom on its head. We find that when we fully adjust for regional differences, Title I funding patterns disproportionately favor rural school districts in low cost-of-living states. We conclude with policy recommendations for revising Title I funding formulas.
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