How the supplement-not-supplant requirement can work against the policy goals of Title I
A Case for Using Title I, Part A, Education Funds More Effectively and Efficiently

How the Supplement-Not-Supplant Requirement Can Work Against the Policy Goals of Title I

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Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a federal program to provide additional assistance to academically struggling students in high-poverty areas, has long contained a provision called the “supplement-not-supplant” requirement. This provision was designed to ensure Title I funds were spent on extra educational services for at-risk students, but in practice, the rule as it is currently enforced can prevent school districts and schools from spending federal money on effective educational strategies. Complying with the supplement-notsupplant rule also carries an enormous administrative burden.

Spending Title I funds effectively on academically struggling and at-risk students can be difficult because the federal government currently tests for supplement-not-supplant violations on a cost-by-cost basis. In other words, school districts and schools must prove that each individual cost charged to Title I supports an activity the district or school would not have otherwise carried out with state or local funds. Any cost a school district or school would have paid for in the absence of Title I is not considered to be extra.

Federal administrative rules instruct auditors and other oversight personnel to presume that activities mandated by law, previously supported with state or local funds, or benefiting all students are, by default, not extra. As a result, it is difficult
for school districts and schools to:
• Implement comprehensive programs with Title I funds (please see page 13 for an example)
• Implement innovative programs with Title I funds (please see page 16 for an example)
• Manage administrative responsibilities in a way that minimizes burden (please see page 14 for more information)

This works against Title I’s goals of ensuring all students have access to a highquality education, and targeting resources effectively to make a difference where needs are greatest.

Title I was designed to be a flexible program, giving school districts and schools latitude to spend Title I funds on a broad array of educational services as long as they are consistent with the program’s purposes. The supplement-not-supplantrule as it is currently enforced, however, substantially limits how school districts and schools may spend their Title I funds, restricting the ways in which Title I can support at-risk students.

This paper briefly describes the origins of Title I’s supplement-not-supplant requirement and provides examples of how the rule affects state and local implementation of Title I programs. This paper also offers three options for reforming the rule:

• Replace the current “cost-by-cost test” with a test that focuses on the amount of state and local funding Title I schools receive to ensure such funds are allocated neutrally without regard to the Title I funds available to the school.

• Allow the U.S. Department of Education, and perhaps state educational agencies, to waive the supplement-not-supplant requirement as needed to promote effective and efficient educational strategies for at-risk students.

• Eliminate the supplement-not-supplant test altogether.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which the supplement-not-supplant requirement works against the goals of Title I and to offer suggestions for alternatives that better promote the responsible use of Title I funds.

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