On the surface, the current dispute about Title I comparability (the requirement that schools within a district must receive comparable resources from state and local sources for education of disadvantaged children before federal funds are added on) is all about money. On one side, Secretary of Education John King is pressing for regulations that would require districts to demonstrate real-dollar equality of state and local spending. On the other, Senate Education Committee Chair Lamar Alexander is insisting that the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not allow such a sharp definition of comparability, leaving states and localities free to interpret the comparability principle in various ways.
But the underlying issues go much deeper. They are about whether schools serving the most disadvantaged children will get a fair chance to improve, or will always be at a disadvantage in attracting and retaining good teachers and principals. Here’s why:
Driven by their collective bargaining agreements, the vast majority of big school districts ignore between-school differences in teacher salaries. This is so senior teachers can choose the schools they believe are the best workplaces—most often schools in nicer neighborhoods with students from higher-income families—while newer teachers with no seniority rights and fewer choices tend to work in more disadvantaged schools serving poorer students.