A picture of Representative Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan
Gregorio S.
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  • To Amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to Adjust Funding Levels for Certain Outlying Areas

    by Representative Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan

    Posted on 2015-02-10

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    SABLAN of the northern mariana islands in the house of representatives Tuesday, February 10, 2015 Mr. SABLAN. Mr. Speaker, as we ready to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 114th Congress, I am introducing legislation, which I want to see incorporated into a reauthorization and which will help fulfill one of the original goals of the Act, namely to ensure that American children have access to a high-quality education--no matter the economic circumstances of the geographic area where they live. Title 1 of the ESEA was designed to address the ``impact that concentrations of low-income families have on the ability of local educational agencies to support adequate educational programs . . .'' Pub. L. No. 89-10, Sec. 201. But this intent--to close the educational opportunity gaps that exist from community to community in America--has not yet been realized in my district, the Northern Mariana Islands, where incomes are less than half the national median and our local educational agency still struggles to meet the needs of students.

    Expenditures for public elementary and secondary education nationally were $10,667 per pupil in fiscal 2012, the most recent year for which this data is available. In the Northern Marianas public elementary and secondary education spending per pupil was just $6,246. National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. In part, this gap is a function of the local contribution; but the point of Title I was to use federal resources to balance educational funding nationwide by helping places where there is limited fiscal capacity. And my constituents are not unwilling to invest in education: In November they adopted an initiative amending our Commonwealth Constitution to require that 25 percent of each year's local revenues go to our schools, an increase of the existing 15 percent requirement. But, because personal incomes are low, these local government revenues are limited.

    The local contribution in the Northern Marianas is also constrained because we have only one layer of government. Local educational agencies nationwide are generally funded both by a state and by a county or municipal government, a system that shares state resources across wealthy areas and poor. In the Northern Marianas there is only a single, state-level government that has authority to raise revenues and is solely responsible for supporting our school system.

    If it operated as intended, the system of allocation established for Title I-A funding should alleviate such variations in local capacity, instead it appears to disadvantage the Northern Marianas. The ESEA gives the Secretary of Education authority to allocate a fixed one percent of Title 1 funds among the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools and four ``outlying areas,'' of which the Northern Marianas is one. But, according to the Congressional Research Service, the result in fiscal 2014 was an allocation of $1,987 per qualifying child in Bureau schools, while each qualifying child in Northern Marianas schools was allotted only $1,073.

    In addition to this allocation discrepancy, associated with Secretarial discretion, there is an inherent flaw in the Title 1 set- aside of a fixed percentage of annual funding to assist a population that changes with time. We expect families to seek economic opportunity for themselves or better schooling for their children by moving from one area of our nation to another. I have seen this kind of out- migration from my district. And the annual adjustments in Title I-A allocations among the states respond to this dynamic, but the fixed one percent to BIE and the outlying areas does not. Likewise, the population counts and income data, which the Secretary uses in allocating funds among the outlying areas, are based on the decennial census, not on the more up-to-date information used for Title I-A allocations nationally. As a result, Title I-A allocations among the outlying areas continue fixed--on auto-pilot--for a decade, even if the economy in one of these areas flags, incomes fall, or the number of qualifying children increases. I have also witnessed this effect in my district.

    Ironically, I understand, the one percent set-aside may originally have been intended to protect the small, outlying areas from year-to- year swings in funding and to assure our areas of federal assistance sufficient to run meaningful programs and to compensate for the inherent fiscal deficiencies islands we face, as a result of geographic and economic isolation. But the present effect of this set-aside is that Title I-A support for public elementary and secondary education in my district, the Northern Marianas, is, as noted, $1,073 per student, even less than the national average of $1,215.

    So, today I am introducing legislation that modifies the present Title I-A funding system for the outlying areas. My bill ends the special set-aside system, removes Secretarial discretion, and employs the same funding formula that applies to every other part of our nation, although at a much reduced rate in recognition of our relatively smaller populations. And I ask my colleagues for their support.


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