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A Sampler of Major K-12 Programs

Below is some information about a few of the largest Education Department programs for K-12 education and their funding levels as of fiscal 2020, unless otherwise noted. The names Title I, Title II, and Title IV refer to sections of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Title I Grants to Local Educational Agencies

Title I: The single biggest federal program by dollar amount for K-12 provides more than $16 billion to districts to help serve students from low-income households. The Title I formula is really made up of four formulas. Each of these works differently. One of them, for example, provides more money per student as a district’s share of disadvantaged students goes up. Another relies on a straightforward count of such students.

However, the Title I formula has critics because it does not always direct money efficiently to schools with the highest shares of disadvantaged students. Some have also questioned whether using free and reduced-price meal statistics as a foundation for Title I is the best approach to measuring students’ needs. A 2015 attempt to revamp the formula fell flat and lawmakers haven’t really revisited the issue since. 

As of the 2017-18 school year, roughly 60 percent of public schools received Title I, but high schools are not as likely to receive Title I as elementary and middle schools. Schools where at least 40 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price meals can use Title I money on a “schoolwide” basis for all students. 

Special Education State Grants

The biggest pot of money for students with disabilities is $12.8 billion in state grants to educate those between the ages of 3 and 21. Participating states must agree to use the money to provide a “free and appropriate public education” as required by federal law. That phrase has been the subject of intense legal battles for years. The same goes for the requirement that each child receiving disability services backed by this money must have an individualized education plan, or IEP. 

Title II: Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants

This $2.1 billion program is intended to provide professional development for teachers and school administrators. Title II money can also be used to reduce class size. 

Title IV: Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants

Title IV: Title IV is a relatively small grant compared, clocking in at roughly $1.2 billion in current funding. But districts, as well as education lobbyists for a huge variety of interests, are big fans of it. Why? Because districts can use it on all kinds of things, from fees related to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, school counselors, and foreign language instruction, to STEM programs, and so on. After the school shootings in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, Congress responded in part by tripling Title IV aid because they viewed it as a way to increase federal support for school safety measures, which is an allowable but not required use of Title IV.

21st Century Community Learning Centers Program

This program provides grants to school districts and community-based organizations for centers that provide additional student learning opportunities through before- and after-school programs and summer school programs. It received $1.2 billion in fiscal 2020.

Charter Schools Program

This $440 million grant program is intended to help successful charter school models and networks expand. For many years it enjoyed bipartisan support, but after the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats in Congress started trying to chip away at its funding. The program has become more polarizing than it was in its early years. Critics say it supports fraud and mismanagement, but others praise its record of helping charters with a proven track record. Charters run by for-profit entities are ineligible to receive these grants.