Teacher to Congress: Title 1 Funding Helps Students and Families Fight Inequity

This week Teach Plus teachers nationwide comment on the reauthorization and key provisions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

2015-03-02-corn_nikki.pngBy Nikki Corn

When he walked into my second-grade classroom at Chapelwood Elementary, I could tell that Jonathan was smart. He'd always use his quick wit to crack a joke when he didn't get something. Those jokes happened too often, however. Jonathan started the year reading below a kindergarten level. All Jonathan could speak was Spanish, because that's what was spoken at home.

Jonathan needed specially trained ESL teachers and different resources to help him transition to reading English. His parents needed support to learn how to help Jonathan. Fortunately, my school had access to the resources Jonathan needed through Title 1.

The United States invests resources to help students in need, like Jonathan, through a program called Title 1. In the current draft of the U.S. House of Representatives' version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Title 1 resources would move away from school districts with many high-needs students. In fact, for districts serving Hispanic students like Jonathan, the lost funding could total $1.8 billion.

To Title 1 teachers across the country, Jonathan's growth in one year is not surprising. He grew by two reading grade levels and was on grade level by the end of the year. For the rest of his time at Chapelwood Elementary, Jonathan never needed Title 1 resources again.

Jonathan's new proclivity for reading and school benefited his entire family. Using the resources Title 1 paid for, Jonathan's mother began to read and study with him, and they learned English. She went from no communication with the school to becoming involved and a frequent lunch guest of Jonathan.

Most importantly, our investment through Title 1 resources directly benefited Jonathan's little brother, Joshua. Instead of starting school without the language skills to succeed, Joshua was ready on day one. He had a big brother eager to read to him, and engaged parents ready to support whatever his needs may be.

In my five years of teaching ESL students, I've had many students like Jonathan. I've also worked in a district with access to resources to invest in him and his entire family. The way I see it, members of Congress have a choice: They can change the Title 1 funding structure and shortchange students who most need that extra support to catch up, or they can invest in students like Jonathan, provide him the resources he needs and ensure that his entire family is better off. I urge senators and representatives to think of Jonathan and his family when they make their choice.

Nikki Corn is a second grade ESL teacher at Chapelwood Elementary in Wayne Township Schools in Indiana. She is a Teach Plus-Indianapolis Teaching Policy Fellow.