EXPLAINED: What Is Title I and How Is It Used to Fund Our Schools?

Title I is a federal program that goes a long way towards supporting schools that need it most. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and helps schools in low-income areas receive additional aid. This is achieved by setting aside a certain portion of the federal education budget for Title I programs.

This article will explain Title I, a federal program that provides resources to help low-income students learn English, complete high school and prepare for college. It is important to understand what it is and how it is used, so that you can make informed decisions about your children’s education.

Title I is a federal program that provides funding for schools that serve low-income students. As a rule, Title I money is distributed to schools based on their percentage of low-income students. That means that a school that enrolls a majority of poor students will receive more Title I money than a school that enrolls a majority of middle class students.. Read more about what is a title 1 school and let us know what you think.



When national politicians and lobbyists argue that we should spend more money on K-12 education, they nearly invariably mean boosting federal funding for a program known as “Title I,” which supplements state and local school spending for low-income children. 

Indeed, the House Appropriations Committee approved a measure in July that would provide $36 billion to address huge proficiency disparities that disproportionately impact children from low-income families. This education budget, along with the three epidemic relief packages enacted earlier this year, would more than quadruple the amount of money the federal government spends in a fiscal year, giving American schools their largest boost ever.

What is Title I, exactly?

Title I is one of the federal funding sources that augment the amount of money allocated to schools by each state. There are also additional “Title” funds, I-VII, aimed at assisting students with financial hardships that may prevent them from receiving an equal education. Poverty, homelessness, living in state-run facilities, living in remote rural areas, and those who are still learning English are among these difficulties. (Students with impairments have their own financial stream.)

Title I was established “to guarantee economically disadvantaged students get a fair, equitable, and high-quality education by assisting in the closing of academic performance gaps,” according to the US Department of Education.

“Supplement, not supplant” is a key term we employ when discussing Title funding. That means governments can’t utilize federal funds as a replacement for local and state education financing, only as a supplement. In addition, Title funds are part of a broader set of “entitlement programs” that compel the federal government to make payments to states or individuals who fulfill certain criteria. Social security and veteran’s compensation, for example, are entitlement systems.

What is the scope of Title I, and when did it begin?

The biggest government assistance program for schools in the United States is Title I. Although children enrolled in private schools or who homeschool are also eligible, almost majority of it goes to public schools. During President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” it was included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. (During the George W. Bush administration, the law was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind, and during the Obama administration, it was renamed the Every Student Succeeds Act.) See The ABC’s of ESEA, ESSA, and No Child Left Behind for additional information on the legislation.) 

ESEA, ESSA, and No Child Left Behind: The ABCs

Whatever it’s called, this federal legislation mandates that fair financing be the responsibility of both the states and the federal government. Title I money goes to low-income kids who are disadvantaged in public schools because they may not have had all of the educational advantages that children from higher-income households have received. The goal is for these children to achieve high academic requirements, which are also mandated by federal law, with the additional assistance given by increased money.

The actual amount of Title I money received by schools for low-income children has historically been extremely modest, about 5% of yearly per-pupil expenditure (although it varies by geography). 

What criteria must a student meet in order to receive Title I funds?

Low-income children are divided into two categories by the federal government: those who get free lunch and those who receive reduced lunch. If a family’s income is at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, the children in that household are eligible for free lunch. If a family’s income is up to 185 percent of the poverty level, the children in that household are eligible for subsidized lunch. Parents or guardians must fill out an application with information about their family’s size and income in order to get this benefit. This is often known as “tailored help.”

What criteria does a school district have to meet in order to receive Title I funds?

Yes, a school district as a whole may be eligible for Title I funding.

If a district determines that a minimum of 10 students per school, or at least 2% of school-age children in the district, are eligible for free or reduced lunch through targeted assistance or parent applications, the district receives a Title I grant from the federal government, which is sent to the state department of education. The district must use this extra money toward research-based methods to help those kids improve their grades (typically instruction and professional development). The district must also describe how it plans to encourage parent participation in its Title I program.

Through the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the Obama administration established a new eligibility option known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). If 40% of a district’s children are “specifically recognized” as eligible for free lunch (a tougher method of confirming a family’s poverty status), all students in that district are eligible for free meal, regardless of family income.

Additionally, if a school district qualifies for compensatory money via CEP, the whole school, including non-low-income students, is eligible. In this instance, all teachers, aides, and administrators work to raise all kids’ success levels.

This is a crucial difference to make:

  • The additional monies for low-income children are only available if a school receives Title I money via the targeted assistance program.
  • If a school receives Title I funding for the whole school, the funds may be used to change the entire educational program.

A district may utilize Title I funds in a variety of ways, including more teacher training, buying one-on-one devices for eligible children, introducing new literacy initiatives, and increasing community involvement.

What criteria do schools use to determine whether students are low-income?

The federal government provides schools with five options: they can use the number of school-age children identified as “low-income” in the most recent census; they can use the number of children who qualify for free or reduced lunch under the National School Lunch Program; they can use the number of children who receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families); or they can use the number of children who receive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

How many K-12 pupils in the United States are eligible for Title I funds?

Quite a bit! More than half of all American students — approximately 25 million — are now enrolled in Title I schools, which account for about 60% of all public schools in the country. Remember that if a school is classified as a Title I school, all students are eligible for additional programming, whether they are low-income or not. 

Even though the US government will provide almost $16 billion in Title I funds to school districts in 2020, that isn’t a lot of money. Depending on a number of variables, each low-income student may get just $500-$600 per year, while big cities and isolated rural areas may receive more.

What is distinctive about the Biden administration?

During his campaign, Vice President Joe Biden promised to significantly boost federal spending for schools and address national inequalities. The American Rescue Plan Act, which contains eight times the normal federal Title I money given each year, is one of the main ways the legislature has kept its promise. 

This increase in funding is mainly intended to assist kids in recovering from learning losses caused by the COVID-19 epidemic, which has disproportionately affected low-income children and children of color. Will this influx of money be transformative in terms of giving historically disadvantaged kids with the resources they need to succeed in school? Or will it be squandered?

Only time will tell whether this is true.


In many instances, school districts rely on parental participation to obtain Title I funding. However, the procedure, which may require parents to submit an application to schools, may be intimidating. If a child is eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program through targeted assistance, for example, parents must fill out a two-page form that asks for the names and grades of their children who attend school, as well as the parents’ sources of income and whether they are already eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). (If a family receives SNAP or TANF benefits, their children are immediately eligible for free lunch.)

Even though school districts never inform authorities about immigration status, intimidation is more probable if parents are illegally. Because of their anxiety, some families fail to submit the paperwork, resulting in less support for their children.

As an education activist, what can you do?

Ensure that all eligible children get the services they need.

  • When 40 percent of a school’s students qualify for free or reduced lunch, it’s simple for districts to register for Title I benefits. If less than 40% of students qualify, the district must submit extra documentation to qualify each kid for “targeted assistance.” Encourage parents to lobby for this help, which qualifies their children not just for lunch but also for additional educational services, and to demand that their district treats their children fairly.

No, you will not be deported for completing paperwork for a free or reduced lunch.

  • Educate and reassure hesitant parents that completing the application for free or reduced-price meals will have no effect on their immigration status. Please refer them to the following official statement from the United States Department of Agriculture:

Immigrants who get dietary aid from the Food and Nutrition Service are not considered “public charges.” That is, an immigrant to the United States who gets food stamps, WIC benefits, free and reduced-price school meals, or other nutrition aid through FNS will not be deported, refused admission to the country, or denied permanent status.

Assist parents in completing the steps required to get services for their children.

  • You may assist parents in obtaining documentation from the district (which can be done online or on paper). While the forms are sent at the start of the school year, parents may apply at any time.
  • You can ensure that the forms get to the district on time.

Ensure that the district is doing all possible to include parents.

  • One percent of Title I funds must be spent on engaging parents in their children’s education, according to the federal government. Find out whether your school system is doing so, and if so, how successful their efforts are. Speak out if they aren’t! This is a collaborative endeavor that requires the participation of school administrators, teachers, and parents.

It’s money earmarked for disadvantaged children that’s on the line. Your action may result in more funds for some of our most vulnerable families. 

Adobe Stock-licensed photo by Monkey Business.

Title I is the largest federal education program in the country, and it’s being used to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged children and their families. The program is designed to help those students who face the greatest educational challenges, such as those who live in poverty, attend under-resourced schools, or have limited English proficiency. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines a Title I school as an elementary and/or secondary school where at least 50 percent of the pupils are from low-income families.. Read more about what can title 1 funds be spent on and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Title I funding for schools?

Title I funding is a federal program that provides funds to schools with low-income students.

What is Title 1 funding used for?

Title 1 funding is used to fund projects that are related to the arts, humanities, and sciences.

What determines if a school is Title 1?

Title 1 schools are those that receive federal funding based on their low-income student population.

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