High schools lost the most in new formula

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High schools are the big losers under the new Title I formula. Fifty-three of them are losing money, including 20 that will lose it all.

A couple of factors are responsible. First, the new formula gives greater weight to the number of students at a school who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. And older kids are less likely than younger children to turn in the required forms, say school officials, speculating they may be embarrassed to line up for a subsidized lunch.

Second, the new formula changed how the AFDC factor (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) is calculated. Previously, the count was based on the number of AFDC families in the neighborhoods of feeder elementary schools. Now the AFDC count is based on the number of children enrolled in the school who are in AFDC families. And there are proportionately more younger children than teens in AFDC families, according to Illinois Department of Public Aid figures.

Two high schools will get federal Title I money for the first time next year. The reason is that both go all out to get their students to turn in free lunch forms.

At Hubbard High in West Lawn, 86 percent of the students have signed up for free or reduced-price lunches— which also determines how state Chapter 1 money is distributed. “We insist that students turn in the form if they’re entitled,” says Assistant Principal Valerie Doubrawa.

Ditto for Amundsen High in Lincoln Square, where 95 percent of the students have signed up for free lunches.

In contrast, at Englewood High, which serves markedly poorer communities, only 67 percent of the students have signed up for free lunch.

To qualify for the lunch program, a family must earn less than the federal poverty level. For free lunch, a family of four cannot make more than $20,280 a year, for reduced-price, not more than $28,860.

Chicago Vocational High, which serves students from a wide variety of communities on the South Side, is the biggest loser. Two years ago, the school got a windfall when it qualified for over $1 million in Title I. That declined slightly this year to $979,600. But under the new formula, CVS is no longer eligible to receive any Title I money. (Only 56 percent of its students have signed up for free lunch.)

In a statement prepared for the Feb. 26 School Reform Board meeting, members of the CVS Local School Council questioned the dramatic shift. “We are indeed shocked and appalled by such a drastic measure by a Board that boasts to the world that it puts ‘Children First’. … [H]ow can a school placed on remediation raise its scores if the very dollars that fund crucial academic initiatives are snatched away?”

But the school never delivered its message. Early in the meeting, Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas announced a hold-harmless measure that would cover all high school losses for next school year. None of the schools scheduled to speak made statements against the new formula.