New Students

Students and parents at Sechrist Elementary school on the first day of the new school year in this August 2015 file photo.

Flagstaff Unified School District officials say they will be OK despite an expected 15 percent cut in federal Title I funds designated for schools with a high number of low-income students.

FUSD received $214,454 more in Title I funds than it was supposed to over the last four years due to a state processing error. Next year, it will receive a total of $353,000 less out of its $2 million Title I allotment.

However, the district and the seven FUSD elementary schools that use the majority of the Title 1 funding should be OK because officials always budget for a 10 percent cut in the funds. The district also has some funding that was rolled over from the previous school year, although the district might have to reduce its summer school program this year.

The cut comes after the Arizona Department of Education announced earlier this month that money from the federal program had been doled to state schools incorrectly over the last four years.

According to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the state improperly distributed around $62 million, with some schools and districts getting more than they should have and others getting less.

Schools use Title 1 funds to buy supplemental teaching supplies, hire education specialists, equipment, teacher’s aides, along with summer school and intercession programs, said Sylvia Johnson, FUSD’s director of Educational Enrichment. The funding is based off of the number of low-income students in the district’s boundaries, including students in charter schools, and is designed to help these students succeed in their education.

According ACIR, the Arizona Department of Education found out that the funds were being dispersed improperly after a regular audit of the program in 2015. The department hired an outside firm to do a more complete audit on the program and found in April that more than 400 schools in the state received either more or less than their fair share of the funds. There are more than 200 traditional school districts in the state and more than 400 charter schools.

Other local school districts and charter schools in the Flagstaff area are included in that list -- Flagstaff Junior Academy received around $33,228 less than it was supposed.

Gina Lanzetta, the assistant director at FJA, coordinates the Title I funds for the school. She stated in an email that decreases in the funding over the last few years and the late release of the funding by the state have made it difficult to budget and plan for services. FJA uses the money for free tutoring to all students who need it. Lanzetta said she’ll be attending a conference in two weeks to learn more about the audit findings and how the state plans to address the problem.

Johnson, who is on a state board that received information about the audit findings, said in order to remedy the situation, the state has created a formula to reduce Title I payments from schools that were overpaid over the next several years. The formula has yet to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. In order to diminish the financial hit to districts and schools that received more money than they should have, ADE is capping the amount cut from their Title I programs at 15 percent.

Johnson said the amount the district’s Title I fund is cut is more than 15 percent because of two other reasons that are not related to the snafu at the state.

First, FUSD is expecting to get less Title I funding overall this year because of an increase in the amount of Title I funding going to a state school improvement fund, which holds money to support the lowest performing schools in the state. The amount of Title I money held back by the state for the fund was increased from 4 percent to 7 percent because of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Second, the district’s Title I allotment was reduced overall because the number of low-income students within the district’s boundaries has dropped by about 12 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Johnson said.

Johnson said she always plans for a 10 percent cut because the number of low-income students in the district’s boundaries can fluctuate from year to year. The Title I program also has a “hold harmless” clause that limits the maximum amount the federal government can cut from a district or school’s allotment in one year to 10 percent. This allows schools to continue to fund necessary programs during years when the population of low-income students has a rapid change.

The federal government is making an exception in the cap on cuts this year for Arizona because of the snafu with the funding, she said. However, Johnson has already warned principals that there may be effects on next year’s programs, depending on the number of low-income students and any state cuts to reimburse the program.

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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